Type 1 Diabetes: What Can I Have For A Snack?

Many snacks are not diabetic-friendly because they are loaded with carbohydrates, particularly sugar. However, several alternatives are available, and finding a sugar-free, low-carb snack is possible. Here, we will go over a type 1 diabetes snack list and which snacks contain the fewest carbohydrates. 

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What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, causing severe deficiency or complete lack of insulin in the body. When this happens, blood sugar levels get too high. This is because insulin is the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels by helping move the sugar from the bloodstream and into the cells to be utilized as energy. 

However, in the absence of insulin, cells do not receive this signal. As a result, sugar accumulates in the blood, and the cells are deprived of energy. 

With this excess sugar in the blood, secondary conditions can occur because of its harmful effects. For example, it can cause blood vessels and nerve damage in the peripheries, kidneys, and eyes.

Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed during childhood or adolescence. Regardless, it's still possible for adults to be diagnosed with diabetes much later in life. 

Common symptoms of diabetes include: 

  • Increased thirst

  • Urinating often

  • Increased hunger

  • Increased tiredness

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Sores or wounds that take a long time to heal

  • Dry or itchy skin

  • Numb feet or tingling feet

  • Blurred vision that may come and go 

If you are experiencing any of those symptoms and are yet to be diagnosed, the best thing you can do is see a doctor sooner rather than later. When left untreated, diabetes worsens, and secondary complications can occur. 

Complications that can arise from type 1 diabetes include: 

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis

  • Strokes

  • Kidney disease

  • Eye disease

  • Foot problems

  • Dental problems

  • Nerve damage 

  • Sleep apnea

  • Depression 

Since type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, researchers are not entirely sure of the exact cause that triggers the immune system in this case. However, there appears to be a strong genetic component to the disease, but whether you have parents or siblings with type 1 diabetes or not, you can still be at risk of developing this disease. 

Ethnicity seems to be an important risk factor for developing type 1 diabetes. People of European¹ origin appear to be the most at risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Finland, Italy (Sardinia region), and Sweden have the highest incident rate.

Other risk factors include viral infections, maternal preeclampsia, and early introduction of cow milk in infancy.

But the reality is that anyone can be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, even when no risk factors are apparent. So again, it's always best to get tested. The tests are simple and only consist of a few blood tests. 

Why is it important for people with diabetes to stick to a diet plan?

Sticking to a diet plan² is essential for people with diabetes because it can help keep your blood sugar levels consistent and not higher than the desired range. 

However, it can sometimes go the other way when you start insulin injections, and your blood sugar levels might become too low. Therefore, keeping up with regular meals is vital, and creating a meal plan can ensure that you eat the right amount and types of carbohydrates throughout the day. 

Before getting started, it's essential to know which foods contain higher amounts of carbohydrates, as some foods may not seem initially obvious. 

Foods that contain carbohydrates include:

  • Fruit, including fruit juice

  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn

  • Cereal

  • Bread

  • Pasta

  • Rice

  • Dairy products, including milk

  • Legumes

  • Sweets

  • Baked goods like cookies and cake

  • Jam

  • Honey

  • Most snack foods like crackers and crisps

A diabetic diet plan aims to limit carbohydrates, but they should not be cut from the diet completely because not all carbohydrates are bad. For example, carbohydrates high in fiber³ and low in starch or sugar are good for you. 

Fiber has many health benefits, such as improving digestive health and reducing weight gain. Foods that are high in fiber are also essential to help maintain your blood sugar level at the desired level, as when fiber is consumed with other types of carbs, it bulks the food in the digestive system, slowing down the process of sugar absorption into the bloodstream, and preventing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.

As a guide,⁴ half of your dinner plate should contain non-starchy vegetables such as greens, courgettes, and cauliflower. One quarter should have carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, grains, or potato, while the other consists of protein. 

Another option you may find easier is to count your net carbohydrates instead. This involves weighing carbs or knowing how many are in each food serving. Your net carbohydrates will equate to total carbohydrates minus the fiber content. 

Nutritional guidelines for adults with type 1 diabetes

Adults with type 1 diabetes should consume no more than 200g of carbohydrates daily. However, the recommended amount⁵ is 130g per day for men and women. 

Pregnant women need to increase their carbs to at least 175g per day, and lactating women should increase their carbs to 210g. 

Nutritional guidelines for children with type 1 diabetes

Infants and children of different ages will require varying amounts of carbohydrates. If you are worried your child is not getting the right amount, it is best to check in with a doctor or dietitian.

As a guide, here are the daily recommendations:

  • Infants 0–6 months: 60g per day

  • Infants 6–12 months: 95g per day

  • Children 1 year plus: 130g

What are the best lower carbohydrate snacks for type 1 diabetes?

Dietitians⁶ recommend that your daily carbohydrate intake be spread evenly across your meals and snacks to avoid spikes in blood glucose levels. However, since most snacks are carbohydrate-dense, you will need to ensure that you are not consuming more carbs in your snacks than in your meals. 

Best snacks should be high in protein and fiber and contain small amounts of healthy fats if possible. That is because neither fiber, protein, nor healthy fat cause spikes in blood glucose levels and can keep you full and satisfied for long.

Therefore, you may want to aim for snacks with 5g or less of carbohydrates or stick with a range from 6 to 15g of carbohydrates, provided that fiber accounts for a good amount of this. Of course, this ultimately depends on how many carbs you have in each meal, and if your meals tend to have more, you will need to cut back on snacks. 

Snacks with 5g or less of carbohydrates

Foods that contain 5g of carbohydrates or less:

  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts (4g)

  • 1 slice of low-fat Swiss cheese (1g)

  • ½ large tomato (3g)

  • ¼ cup shredded lettuce (0g

  • 1 low-fat string cheese stick (1g)

  • 4 ounces of low-sodium turkey meat (1g)

  • 6 ounces baked chicken breast (0g)

Snacks with 6 to 15g of carbohydrates

Some foods that contain between 6–15g of carbohydrates include: 

  • 1 cup low-fat milk (13g)

  • 8 baby carrots (7g)

  • 6 ounces plain fat-free Greek yogurt (7g)

  • ¾ cup blueberries (15g)

  • 1 cup steamed broccoli (12g)

  • 1 biscuit (2½ inches across)

  • 1 small tortilla (6 inches across)

  • ½ pita

  • 1 waffle (4-inch square or 4 inches across)

  • 3 graham crackers (2½ inch squares)

  • 3 cups popcorn, popped

  • ¾ oz pretzels

  • 2 rice cakes (4 inches across)

  • 1 extra-small banana

  • ½ cup canned fruit

  • 1 medium fruit, e.g., peach, orange, pear (6oz)

  • 17 small grapes (3oz)

  • 1¼ cup strawberries

These are often the average values; however, if your snack comes with a food label,⁷ always read the label, as different manufacturers of the same product could have varying quantities of carbohydrates. 

When is a good time for a lower carbohydrate snack?

Knowing when to have snacks can be tricky, especially if you are not hungry and do not feel like eating. Some dietitians advise that you keep up with regular snacks in small portions even when you are not hungry because this may help keep your blood sugar levels consistent. 

By creating a meal plan, you can schedule when to have snacks. When you decide to have snacks is entirely up to you, but you may find they work best when spaced out evenly between meals. 

Additionally, while this is sometimes frowned upon, you may wish to schedule a light snack before bedtime to prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping too much when you sleep. 

Snacks that are known to work well before bedtime include: 

  • A handful of walnuts, almonds, or peanuts

  • A hard-boiled egg

  • Low-fat cheese with whole wheat crackers

  • Baby carrots

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Cucumber slices

  • Celery sticks with hummus

  • Popcorn

  • Sliced apple with peanut butter

  • Sugar-free low-fat yogurt 

These snacks contain fewer carbohydrates, and most have more protein or healthy fat. If you have diabetes, then snacking before bed is fine, although there are some things you might want to consider. 

For example, if you suffer from acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),⁸ eating before bed could worsen this. If this is an issue, you could try elevating your head with a few extra pillows or avoid the foods that trigger it. 

Foods you should avoid if you have GERD include:

  • Acidic foods like citrus fruit or tomatoes

  • Chocolate

  • Alcohol

  • High-fat foods

  • Mint flavored foods

  • Spicy flavored foods

Overall, having snacks before bedtime is safe. Just limit the carbohydrates and keep the portions small. 

Why is carb counting important?

Carb counting is essential because it ensures you get the right amount of carbohydrates daily. For example, too many carbs can increase your blood sugar levels, whereas not enough can cause these levels to drop. 

How do people with type 1 diabetes manage nutrition?

People with type 1 diabetes manage their nutrition in several ways. These include: 

  • Keeping track of what they eat by counting carbohydrates⁹

  • Regular visits with their doctor

  • Seeing a dietitian for further advice

  • Meal plans¹⁰

  • Meal prepping

  • Using food apps that count the number of carbohydrates they consume

  • Keeping a food diary

  • Using diabetic-friendly recipes

  • Reading labels on food to check the carbohydrate and sugar content

  • Referring to food charts that specify how many carbs are in each serving of food

  • Checking blood sugar levels often and relating this to what they eat

The lowdown

Snacks that contain very few net carbohydrates are safe options for people with type 1 diabetes. However, if you are worried that you are not eating the right amount of carbohydrates daily, you could try counting carbs, using meal plans, or checking in with a dietitian.

  1. Worldwide childhood type 1 diabetes incidence – What can we learn from epidemiology? (2007)

  2. Diabetic diet | MedlinePlus

  3. The health benefits of dietary fibre (2020)

  4. The healthy diabetes plate (2007)

  5. Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): Recommended dietary allowances and adequate intakes, total water and macronutrients (2011)

  6. Counting carbohydrates | MedlinePlus

  7. Food labels | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  8. Eating, diet, & nutrition for GER & GERD | NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

  9. Carb counting | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  10. Diabetes meal planning | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Other sources:

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