Low-Glycemic Snacks for Healthy Eating Between Meals

September 9, 2021

When you eat smaller amounts to lose weight or ramp up exercise, you’re likely to get hungry between meals. 

If you’re trying to lose weight, cutting calories from snacks might be your first move. This can work sometimes, but if you find you’re truly hungry between meals, Dr. William Dixon, an emergency physician and a Signos co-founder, recommends a high-protein snack with a bit of heart-healthy fat.  

In other words, pick a low-glycemic snack for healthy eating between meals. The glycemic index is a score assigned to an individual food based on how quickly it may raise your blood sugar. 

A serving of a low-glycemic snack that has some beneficial fats, protein, and even fiber helps keep you satisfied until your next meal, and may even cause you to eat less at that meal.  

When it comes to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, overall total daily calories matter, but nutritional quality matters more. One study found that participants who ate peanuts—a low-glycemic legume with 2.4 grams of fiber, 14 grams of healthy fat, and 7 grams of protein per ounce—for snacks had total daily energy intakes that were lower1 than the participants who ate chips. 

Why? Because nutrient-dense, low-glycemic foods are more satiating2 than high glycemic “empty” carbs. In the study of peanuts versus potato chips, peanuts have more calories per ounce (161) than potato chips (~152), but the fiber, fat, and protein in the peanuts provide a filing macronutrient breakdown plus vitamins and minerals. 

Some research associates high-glycemic foods with excess weight gain because high GI foods:

  • induce a faster rise in glucose and insulin response (compared to low GI foods)
  • alter the breakdown and storage of fat for energy use
  • stoke the areas of the brain involved in rewards and craving3
  • change how much energy you burn at rest.

The glycemic load of a food is a mathematical equation whose result estimates how much a serving of that food may raise a person’s glucose after eating it. 

One research review looked at how different protein and carb sources impacted long-term weight gain. Scientists found that the glycemic load of food appears to impact weight gain more than whether it’s a carb or protein. 

Take cheese, for example, which researchers call a “protein food.” Increased cheese intake was associated with weight gain when its glycemic load increased4, with weight stability when the glycemic load didn’t change, and with weight loss when the glycemic load decreased. 

Low-Glycemic Snacks for Healthy Eating

For better health, weight loss or weight maintenance, low-glycemic snacks in appropriate portion sizes can take the edge off of hunger and may cause you to eat less at your next meal. Pick one low-glycemic option from our list of single-food snacks, or add variety with our two-food pairings.

Single Food Low-Glycemic Snacks

Peanuts

An overhead shot of peanuts in a shell and a jar of crunchy peanut butter with a spoon resting on top. Peanuts and peanut butter are low-glycemic snacks

We discussed the wonders this humble legume has on your glycemic response, but it’s worth mentioning again: Just one ounce of peanuts (about a handful) a day may help you manage your weight and provide heart-healthy benefits5. 

Nori

Seaweed contains a high amount of soluble fiber that can change your glycemic response to medium- and high-glycemic foods. One study showed that 3 grams of nori eaten with a slice of high glycemic white bread6 (GI of 75) decreased the glycemic response7 in healthy participants from 100 to 68%. 

Follow the logic of these study results and you might think the seaweed wrapped around sushi rolls combined with the protein from the fish or seafood might be enough to lower the glycemic load of white rice (GI of 73). This may not be the case for all; some Signos members’ glucose have spiked pretty high after eating sushi. Be mindful that sushi sauces like ponzu or eel sauce contain sugar, and sushi rice tends to be seasoned with vinegar and sugar. 

For a light snack, opt for lightly salted, toasted nori sheets (read the label to make sure there’s no sugar in the seasoning), or nosh on a hand roll made with ahi tuna or salmon combined with avocado oil mayonnaise and sugar-free hot sauce and sliced avocado. 

Eggs

A cheap and cheery (they don’t call it sunny-side up for nothing) source of protein, carotenoids, lecithin, vitamins, and minerals for only 78 calories, eggs may improve glycemic control in those with diabetes or pre-diabetes. 

If you’re concerned about antiquated news that eggs affect your cholesterol negatively, rest assured that more recent research shows that even eating one large egg a day may reduce your risk of diabetes without impacting your cholesterol8. 

Pre-cook hardboiled eggs—just don’t remove the shells until you’re ready to eat ‘em—in a big batch for the week to tote with you for an on-the-go snack.

Plain Yogurt

Jars of plain yogurt, a low-glycemic snack, with sliced strawberries on top

With plenty of probiotics to help maintain a healthy gut microbiota, plain low-fat or whole milk yogurt provides nearly 10 grams of protein in ¾ cup. Plain greek yogurt has 16 grams of protein per ¾-cup serving. Perk up the tangy, tart flavor by adding fresh berries, sliced kiwi, or pear. Stir in nut butter, unsweetened cocoa powder and cacao nibs, cinnamon and allulose, or vanilla extract and freeze-dried strawberries.  

Nuts

An overhead shot of a small brown bowl with walnuts, an example of a low-glycemic snack

Full of satiating fat, a moderate amount of protein and a bit of fiber, a one-ounce serving of nuts provides a good amount of magnesium—vital for energy production and support of muscle and nerve functions. 

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that consumption of peanuts and tree nuts significantly decreased insulin resistance and fasting insulin9. Add pistachios, Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts to your shopping list for easy low-glycemic snacks that travel well. Just keep your portions small, as these calorically dense bite-sized beauties can be easy to overeat. 

Two Food Low-Glycemic Snacks

Skinless Chicken with No-Sugar Sauce

An overhead shot of a board with brown parchment and skewered grilled chicken, an example of a low-glycemic snack. On the side is a ramekin of peanut satay sauce

Raise your eyebrow at this one if you’d like, but we eat cubed or skewered skinless chicken breasts on top of salads, sandwiches, soups, casseroles and so on, so why not as a snack? Leftover grilled, baked, or pan-cooked chicken breast makes more sense than grabbing a sugary protein bar.

Add interest to leftover chicken breast by dipping it in a sauce made without added sugar. Keto-friendly store-bought dips, salad dressing, and sauces tend to contain natural sugar alternatives, or you can make your own. 

Pair the glycemic-controlling power of peanuts with Asian flare to make your own satay sauce:

  • Whisk 4 tablespoons of no-sugar creamy butter with ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk, the juice of half a lime, 1 teaspoon tamari or coconut aminos, ½ teaspoon grated ginger, 1 grated garlic clove, ¼ teaspoon each of ground turmeric, salt and pepper.
  • Store the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Apple with Peanut Butter

You may wonder whether “big” peanut butter is sponsoring this article. They’re not and neither is the National Peanut Board. We’re just following the research on peanut butter, and have seen a positive impact on post-meal or post-snack glycemic response in the Signos app when peanut butter is paired with a medium and sometimes high-glycemic food. 

You don’t have to be a kid to snack on apple slices and unsweetened peanut butter. One study indicated that two tablespoons of peanut butter blunts the magnitude of a glucose spike10 to a high GI meal. Enjoy the sweet and savory classic combo of an apple with peanut butter—an apple only has a glycemic index of 36, considered low on the index.

If you’re a Signos member, test your glucose response to two tablespoons of peanut butter spread on a medium-sized banana (GI of 51) to see if you spike.  

Parmesan Cheese and Olives

Italians know good food; a nonna’s slow-simmering Sunday ragu speaks volumes. Take a cue from these foodies and pair salty, buttery parmesan cheese with briny olives. One study showed that the bioactive compounds in olives improve insulin release11 after eating.  

Hummus with Veggies

Overhead shot of a white bowl of hummus, a low-glycemic snack. A plate with sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, purple carrots, and whole grain crackers are on the side

A dip made with chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini (ground sesame paste), hummus contains low-glycemic pulses that can improve glycemic control, reduce feelings of hunger, and increase satisfaction12. Blitz your own batch at home and add pizzazz with roasted red peppers or caramelized onions or chipotle peppers. Serve hummus with carrot, bell pepper, jicama, or celery sticks for dipping.

Date and Nut Energy Balls

Used as a natural, real-food way of sweetening bars, balls, vegan pie crusts, shakes, and more, dates (GI of 42) provide sticky, molasses-like flavor. 

To make your own energy balls:

  • Combine 1 cup pitted dates with ½ cup nuts of your choice, ¼ teaspoon of sea salt, and a scoop or two of your favorite sugar-free protein powder (if desired).
  • Pulse in a food processor or high-speed blender until the ingredients stick together.
  • Use a melon baller or teaspoon to scoop a small amount of the dough into your hands, roll into balls, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Roll date energy balls in crushed nuts, unsweetened coconut flakes, or crushed freeze-dried berries before refrigerating for variety. 
  • The energy balls should stay fresh in the refrigerator for one week. You can also freeze a batch of energy balls by placing them on a baking sheet for an hour. Once cold, transfer the energy balls to a freezer-safe bag and freeze for up to three months.

Plain Cottage Cheese with Diced Fruit and Hemp 

Cottage cheese delivers protein and probiotics; pair the plain stuff with diced fruit and either hemp hearts or powdered hemp protein powder for a snack that’ll keep your mind off food for hours and lower your blood glucose and insulin concentrations13 after eating it. Try an apple pie version: Add a light sprinkle of allulose or monk fruit, cinnamon, diced apples, and a splash of pure vanilla extract.

The Skinny on Low-Glycemic Snacks

As you get used to eating a low-glycemic diet, you might find that the fiber-rich, nutrient-dense foods you eat keep you satisfied enough between meals that you don’t need to snack. 

For times when you’re genuinely hungry, keep some easy-to-grab low-glycemic snacks on hand. Raw nuts, toasted seaweed sheets, plain yogurt or cottage cheese dressed up with fresh fruit are filling, low-prep ways to snack well. 

References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666314003729
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Peter-Petocz/publication/15701207.pdf
  3. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/98/3/641/4577039?login=true
  4. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/101/6/1216/4564539?login=true
  5. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/00346650510625566/full/html
  6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load-for-100-foods
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0271531700800184
  8. https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2018/fo/c8fo00194d/unauth
  9. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/109/2/297/5307128?login=true
  10. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2018.1519404
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464621002103
  12. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/150/8/2214/5850414?login=true
  13. https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/abs/10.1139/apnm-2020-0907