By Mary Ellen Phipps, RDN and Founder of Milk and Honey Nutrition
Eating low glycemic snacks throughout the day can make it easier for people living with diabetes to manage their blood sugars.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, you’ve probably heard of the glycemic index chart… but you may not know exactly what it is. The glycemic index of a food is a numerical rating (on a scale of 0-100) that indicates how quickly or slowly that food can raise blood sugar levels. Keep reading for more info and for my favorite low glycemic snacks for diabetes.
What is the glycemic index chart?
The glycemic index of a food is a numerical rating (on a scale of 0-100) that indicates how quickly or slowly the carbohydrate in that food can raise blood sugar levels.
Our bodies digest carbohydrates (and specifically simple carbohydrates) quicker than any other macronutrients. This means that simple carbs can raise blood sugar levels quickly. And thus, they have higher glycemic index rankings. But, foods that have more complex forms of carbohydrate, like fiber, are digested slower because it takes your digestive tract longer to process them. Aka, it has less of a glycemic IMPACT. Thus, blood sugar levels remain more stable and are less likely to spike.
This article from Harvard gives a great summary of the glycemic index and gives the rankings for some more common foods. And the American Diabetes Association published this comprehensive list that you can view as well.
Foods with a glycemic index score of 55 or below are considered low glycemic index foods. Foods with a glycemic index of 56-69 are considered medium GI foods, and foods with a glycemic index of 70+ are considered high GI.
What about glycemic load?
While knowing the glycemic index score of a food can be helpful. It doesn’t tell the whole story. The glycemic index score only tells us how quickly the food can raise your blood sugar. It does not offer any information about how much of the food you are eating though. Glycemic Load is a more holistic, useful metric.
Watermelon is a common example used to show the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load. The glycemic index of watermelon is 80. It is considered a high glycemic index food because the type of carbohydrate it contains can raise blood sugars very quickly. But because the actual quantity of that carbohydrate is fairly low in a normal size serving, the glycemic load of watermelon is only 5.
Low glycemic load: less than or equal to 10
Medium glycemic load: 11–19
High glycemic load: 20+
Glycemic load takes into account the type of carbohydrate a food contains and how much of the carbohydrate it actually contains.
Low glycemic foods list
Now, I know this might seem a bit complex and like a lot of calculations. And it is. Do you need to go calculating the values for everything you eat? Definitely not. But it is good background information to help inform your food choices. Focusing on complex carbohydrates, protein, and better-for-you fats will usually result in a low glycemic eating pattern, without you needing to calculate or worry about these things.
Some examples of low glycemic foods include:
- Whole grain bread
- Kiwi fruit
How to make low glycemic index snacks
Making low glycemic snacks for diabetes doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s important to choose a carbohydrate source and pair it with a protein and/or plant based fat source. The possibilities are really endless! The list of low glycemic snack for diabetes at the end of this article has some great ideas!
A new low glycemic snack for people with diabetes
The only problem I have with most low glycemic snacks is that they’re not super portable. Things like beans and fresh fruit and veggies can’t be stored in a bag or desk for long periods of time. So, I was excited to try this new low glycemic snack called Nutreat. It’s actually a one-of-a-kind snack that I haven’t seen before, at least not at the stores I shop at. And it only has a glycemic load of 2!!
Nutreat is a low-glycemic, no added sugar, filling snack loaded with prebiotic fiber and lots of flavor, and it's made with organic, all-natural ingredients. I’m not sure if I should compare it to nut butter, or some sort of pudding (see the photo below), but either way it’s a creamy delicious portable low glycemic snack for diabetes. Each jar contains two servings, and has a similar price point to popular protein bars on the market. There’s three flavors to choose form: chocolate, coconut, and berries! You can eat it straight from the jar, dip fruit in it, spread on toast… the possibilities are endless. Head to their website to order and have it delivered straight to your house!
19 Low glycemic snacks for diabetes
Some great low glycemic snacks for diabetes are:
- Trail mix
- Nutreat from the jar
- Veggies and hummus
- Fruit and cheese
- Nutreat on toast
- Greek yogurt
- Avocado toast
- Apple slices with nut butter
- Hard boiled eggs
- Berries and plain yogurt
- Raw nuts
- Meat sticks
- Roasted chickpeas
- Cottage cheese
- Cheese and crackers
- Energy Bites
- Chia seed pudding
What are your favorite low glycemic snacks? Share them in the comments below!