Midnight snacking doesn’t typically have the healthiest connotations. But being hungry late at night doesn’t mean you have to derail your diabetes diet by standing in front of the refrigerator spooning ice cream out of the tub, as delicious as that may sound.
In fact, satisfying a late-night craving with a healthy snack may be good for diabetes. That’s because fasting for too long can, in some cases, make the liver overproduce glucose, which can raise blood sugar — an effect that can be harmful for people with type 2 diabetes, says Lori Chong, RDN, CDE, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
Next time you have a hankering for something salty, savory, or sweet, get your hands on one of these diabetes-friendly snacks to ward off hunger and help you get back to sleep.
Salty: Dry-Roasted or Raw Nuts
Nuts do contain some carbs, but also a fair amount of fat, which means your blood sugar won’t spike too much, says Chong. She recommends opting for a quarter cup of nuts, preferably dry-roasted or raw, as you won’t need the extra fat from processed oils. Steer clear of honey-roasted, chocolate-covered, or yogurt-covered nuts, which are loaded with sugar, Chong says.
Instead, you can choose from a variety of nuts, such as pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and even cashews, to satisfy your late-night craving. To add a pinch of sweetness, consider adding 1 teaspoon (tsp) or so of dark chocolate chips, Chong says.
Always pay attention to portion size, and try not to go over a handful, stresses Cara Lowenthal, RD, CDE, from the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Massachusetts. “Nuts are really healthy, but people don’t realize how calorie-dense they are,” she says. She notes that when you’re looking for low-carb snacks, that often means opting for higher-fat alternatives, meaning you have to pay attention to just how much you’re eating because the calories can add up fast.
If you’re allergic to nuts, consider swapping in seeds, like pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, instead, Chong says. Just be sure to look for dry-roasted or raw seeds that are low in added oils and sugars.
Another smart salty late-night snack? Olives, which are low in carbs and high in fat, Lowenthal says. Try to keep to about half a cup maximum for olives, she advises.
In fact, olive oils pack a powerful health punch. They contain nutrients like copper, iron, fiber, and vitamin E, and they’re full of antioxidants. Some research even suggests that olive oil may be associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in women.
A study published in August 2015 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed the association between olive oil intake and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Researchers examined questionnaires from over 100,000 female participants who detailed their diets, updating the questionnaires every four years. After over 20 years of follow-up, the researchers found nearly 10,000 of the participants had developed type 2 diabetes.
The researchers’ analysis showed that women who consumed over 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of total olive oil per day were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared with women who never consumed olive oil. Furthermore, the researches estimated that subbing olive oil for mayonnaise could reduce type 2 diabetes risk by 15 percent (8 percent if you swapped olive oil for butter, and 5 percent if you swapped olive oil for margarine).
This isn’t the only research to explore the possible health benefits of olives and their related products. A study published in April 2016 in the journal Diabetes Care suggested using extra virgin olive oil as a fat in a high-carb meal may help mediate the effects of those carbs on blood sugar better than either using butter or skipping the fat component altogether.
Savory: Raw Veggies and Spreads
If you’re looking for a savory snack that won’t spike your blood sugar, consider opting for raw, diabetes-friendly veggies and a wholesome spread, like hummus, Lowenthal says. She notes that portion size for the raw veggies is flexible, but you should pay attention to how much of the hummus you’re eating with those veggies — try sticking to about one-third of a cup.
If you don’t like hummus, you can also try something like celery and 1 tbsp of peanut butter, Lowenthal says, or eat a hardboiled egg with your veggies for protein. Again, watch your portion sizes — 1 tbsp of peanut butter contains about 80 to 100 calories, while a hardboiled egg might range from 60 to 80 calories, depending on size.
The protein in these spreads or sides will help satisfy your hunger cravings, Lowenthal says, as protein sends a signal to your brain that says that you’re full. That might help prevent additional snacking later on in the night. By contrast, carbs move through the stomach more quickly than proteins and fats. That means that if you have a carb-only snack, it will spike your blood sugar more, and won’t satisfy your hunger craving in the same way, Lowenthal notes.
Savory: Cheese and Crackers
If you don’t have any veggies in the fridge, you can also choose cheese and crackers for a late-night snack. You can pick any type of cheese, but try to grab real cheese versus processed, Chong advises. Read the ingredient list: Avoid cheeses with long lists of ingredients like “pasteurized prepared cheese product,” Chong says. Instead, she prefers products with simple lists of ingredients like milk, culture, salt, and enzymes.
In addition, seek out whole-grain crackers, but make sure that you’re limiting the portion size so that you don’t go over 15 grams (g) of carbohydrates total, Chong says. She also advises skipping crackers that have enriched flour, or any chips that are fried — even healthy-sounding chips made from sweet potatoes, which in this form are not as nutritious, since the heated oils in these foods can lead to free radicals that promote inflammation in the body, Chong says. Baked chips are a better alternative, she notes.
When it comes to crackers, the more fiber, the better, Lowenthal says. She recommends Triscuits, which only have three ingredients: whole-grain wheat, vegetable oil, and salt. Still, be cautious about portion sizes, as it’s easy to overdo it on crackers that come out of a box with multiple servings. One way to combat this is to buy 100-calorie packs, Lowenthal says, which come pre-portioned.
You can also pair your cheese with vegetables, like carrots or celery sticks, Lowenthal says. A final option is to swap the crackers for a single slice of whole-grain toast, which also solves any portion control issues.
Sweet: Sugar-Free Pudding
If you have a craving for sweet foods late at night, you can whip up a sugar-free pudding mix, Chong says. Many sugar-free chocolate pudding mixes are available in stores, and have only about 15 g of carbs in half a cup.
Chong often makes her own chia pudding mix from 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk, 1 cup of plain yogurt, ¼ cup of chia seeds, 2 tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. If you need more sweetness, you can also add a little stevia to the pudding, Chong says. Mix it all together, giving the fiber-filled chia seeds a few hours to thicken by absorbing the surrounding liquid.
If you’re looking to switch up flavors, the American Diabetes Association also has a recipe for chocolate–peanut butter chia seed pudding with 24 g of carbohydrates per half a cup. Some research suggests chia seeds have great health benefits. A study published in February 2017 in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases found that, over a period of six months, type 2 diabetes patients who included 30 g of chia seeds a day in their diet lost more weight, including around their waist, compared with type 2 diabetes patients who did not eat these seeds.
Sweet: Plain Yogurt
Another potentially sweet option is plain regular or Greek yogurt, Chong says. Greek yogurt has more protein than conventional yogurts, and you can also add lower-sugar fruits, like berries, for added sweetness, she says.
Stay away from store-bought yogurts with ingredients like hydrogenated oils, monoglycerides, and diglycerides, Chong recommends.
You can even add 1 tsp of honey for sweetness, Lowenthal says. If you must have a flavored yogurt, she adds, make sure that the serving size contains 15 g of carbs or less, or choose from one of the 100-calorie Greek yogurt packs that come in different flavors.
“Checking blood sugar is the ultimate test to really know what the best snack is for an individual person,” Chong says. By checking your blood sugar after every snack, you’ll learn how your body responds to various foods and portions — which may differ from person to person. Also don’t forget that stress or lack of sleep could affect blood sugar as well, so test out the foods on a few different occasions to be sure you have an accurate handle on how they’re affecting you.
That way, when it’s late at night, you’ll know the best foods to reach for — for your body’s health and its cravings