Are you one of those people who get a craving for ice cream right around 10 pm? Or maybe you like to munch on potato chips when watching late night TV? Snacking before bedtime can be a guilty pleasure, but people with diabetes are often told to include it in their meal plans. Is this something that every person with diabetes really needs?
Diabetes Meal Planning has Changed
In the past, people who were diagnosed with diabetes were often given vague directions about meal planning, with little attention paid to their personal goals. Most people were told to have 3 meals and 3 snacks per day, without much guidance on exactly what and when to eat. Times have changed, and thankfully so have diabetes meal-planning guidelines. Nowadays, meal plans are much more flexible and individualized.
Similarly, the decision to include a bedtime snack in your diet depends on many things – blood sugar levels, weight management goals, and your eating schedule. Blood sugar levels at bedtime are particularly important to look at. A study in the Journal of Diabetes Care recommends having a snack if your blood sugar is less than 126 mg/dl, but to avoid snacking if your blood sugar is higher than 180 mg/dl.
Why is Snacking Important for People with Diabetes?
Some people with diabetes may develop what’s called nocturnal hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) while they sleep. If your blood sugar at bedtime is low – i.e., less than 126 mg/dl ? then a snack can help to prevent this nighttime dip. But be wise about your snack selection: this isn’t a green light to eat just anything. It’s important to choose a snack that is low in calories, as well as a healthy source of carbohydrate and protein.
Best Bedtime Snacks
A general rule of thumb is 15-30 grams of carbs and about an ounce (7 grams) of protein for a bedtime snack. For example, a glass of skim milk and 3 graham crackers will provide approximately 30 grams of carbs, 8 grams of protein and 170 calories. Remember, the purpose of snacking at bedtime is to prevent you from experiencing the side effects of hypoglycemia while you sleep.
The Bottom Line
If you have a history of low blood sugars at bedtime you may benefit from including a bedtime snack in your meal plan. It’s also important to review your medications with your healthcare provider. Improvements in insulin dosing and new oral medications can help manage nighttime blood sugar levels better than ever before.
If you have normal blood sugar levels before going to sleep you probably do not need to add a bedtime snack to your meal plan and can avoid the extra carbs. It’s always a good idea to check with your registered dietitian ensure you are making the best decision for your personal goals.
Sejal is a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator and she holds a masters degree in nutrition and health. Sejal was the project coordinator for the Veteran’s Administrations (VA) national weight loss program and previously worked for the VA hospital in Tampa, FL as a Spinal Cord Injury dietitian.
Sejal has had numerous clinical and community education experiences, including pediatric and intensive care nutrition support. She has also had the opportunity to teach nutrition courses at the community college level to students interested in pursuing health professions. One of her favorite areas of education is diabetes management.