Snacking is not always bad for diabetics. The right kind of snacks can actually help.
The most important reason for increasing prevalence of obesity, diabetes and hypertension is the rapidly changing dietary habits of people.
This is due to easy availability of convenience foods, frequent snacking on energy-dense fast foods and high consumption of packaged foods in place of traditional home-made foods.
Snacking has often been thought of as unhealthy because it is usually associated with fried foodstuffs, high-fat baked foods, packaged and processed foods or fried foods low in fibre, high on calories and rich in trans fats.
However this is not always the case. It is important to do away with misconceptions about snacking particularly because snacks can play a vital role in improving diet quality, sustaining energy levels throughout the day and in managing diabetes.
It is also necessary to distinguish snacking from munching or eating without hunger, while watching TV or when bored or stressed. Apart from the amount, the type of snacks has a major effect on health. For example, eating healthy high fibre, low sugar, zero trans fat snacks in small quantities can be very good for diabetics.
Snacking is more important for diabetes patients especially those on insulin. Giving your body a steady quantity of high-quality fuel helps in a number of ways.
High fibre, zero trans fat snacks like those made from complex carbohydrates like oats and ragi, fruits and vegetables help to maintain your blood sugar on a much more even level throughout the day.
What you can do
While preventing between-meal hunger, snacking can also help satisfy a craving for a certain texture (e.g. crunchy or smooth) or taste (e.g. sweet or salty). The optimal snack can also serve to meet the nutrient needs
To encourage healthy snacking by a diabetic patient, have a variety available. Eat every two to three hours. It boosts the metabolism, helps maintain blood sugar and allows for efficient absorption of nutrients.
It is a good way to promote healthy long-term eating patterns. Timing and portion size need to be regulated so that snacks don't become a substitute for meals.
The writer is a Chennai-based diabetologist.
Go for it
Fresh fruit or vegetables like carrots, red and green pepper, celery, cucumber. Add low-fat cottage cheese or low-fat dressing
Whole wheat vegetable sandwich and a cup of herbal tea
Whole-grain crackers or biscuits
A handful of roasted nuts like almonds, pistachios, walnuts
Healthy snacks can help you
Maintain a productive energy level
Stick to your diet
Maintain an even metabolic rate through the day
Keep your system in fine fettle
Improve blood sugar control by providing a consistent source of carbohydrates
Decrease the risk of hypoglycaemia or low sugar
Curb the feeling of hunger or starvation, preventing overeating
Eat smaller portions and reduce the overall calorie intake