Diabetes-Friendly Snacks to Keep in Your Desk

Sate your midday cravings without spiking your blood sugar.

Medically reviewed in September 2021

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The problem with type 2 diabetes is you can't often get by on three square meals a day; you need to pepper in a few snacks to keep your blood sugar stable. And at work, when time is short and choices are limited, that can be a problem.

That's why you should keep these snacks in your desk. They don't need to be cooked or refrigerated, they'll last at least a week—probably longer—and they have just the right amount of nutrients to help make sure your levels stay steady. If you're worried about overeating, pack each nibble in single-portion bags—you'll be less tempted to go for seconds (or thirds). Try to keep the servings under 25 or 30 grams of carbs.

Of course, reach out to your healthcare provider if you have any questions, or before you any make changes to your diet.

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Nuts and Seeds

Next time you crave a midday nosh, reach for a 1-ounce portion of unsalted nuts. Almonds, pistachios, cashews and their ilk are packed with protein and heart-healthy fat to keep you satisfied. For a little sweetness and variety, create your own snack mix; add a tablespoon of raisins, along with 1/4 cup of low-sugar, high-fiber cereal, like Cheerios.

Also filled with good fats and protein, a small handful of sunflower seeds is another healthy option, especially if the seeds are unsalted and you keep the shell on. Peeling them will slow your eating.

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Whole fruit

Whether it's a cup of cherries or a small apple, orange or pear, low-glycemic fruits are convenient middle-of-the-afternoon pick-me-ups for any office worker, never mind one with diabetes. Depending on the produce, they often include a dose of key nutrients, like vitamin C, too.

If possible, make sure you eat the skin—which is where a lot of a fruit's fiber lives—and pair it with a few nuts. Spreading it with a teaspoon or two of nut butter (more on that later) is an excellent choice, too.

In a pinch? Some kinds of dried fruit—like apricots—are options, but check the nutrition data beforehand and keep your portion size small. Many come with added sugars, which can spike your levels.

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Pop quiz: what snack tastes great, is considered a whole grain, and can be eaten 3 cups at a time if you're a type 2 diabetic? If you guessed "popcorn"—and let's be honest, the photo helped—you're right.

Unsalted, no-butter-added popcorn can satisfy your urge to graze without jacking up your blood sugar. For best results, air-pop it yourself (no microwavable bags) and top your bowl with a spritz of olive oil or homemade spice mix. For a more filling snack, eat your popcorn with a few nuts. It'll keep you fuller, longer.

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Nut butters

Like whole nuts, natural almond and peanut butters without added ingredients are good choices when you're attempting to manage your blood sugar. They're jammed with healthy fats and protein, and, unopened, remain edible for months. Split a tablespoon among a few whole-grain crackers or a piece of fruit—it's surprisingly good with pears—for the best balance of carbs, protein and fat. It'll help get you through the afternoon to dinner. Remember to check labels, though, since some products have lots of added sugar.

Individual servings are best for desks, for two reasons: serving sizes are portioned out already, and many nut butters have to be refrigerated once the cap is popped, meaning an open jar could eventually spoil in your drawer.

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If you sit in a relatively isolated area—or have forgiving coworkers—consider making 3 ounces of tuna fish part of your afternoon routine. It has no sugar at all, and each ounce includes 7 grams of protein. Combine it with fresh herbs or lemon pepper, scoop it on top of whole-grain crackers or a slice of 100% whole-wheat bread, and dig in.

Look for tuna packed in water and packaged in cans or pouches, which don't require refrigeration.

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Diabetic-friendly homebaked goods

From muffins to quickbreads, cookies to energy balls, there are entire blog and magazine empires built on recipes for diabetic-friendly baked goods. A simple Google search will get you started; just be sure to read the nutritional breakdown of each treat, as well as available reviews from fellow diabetics. They'll help you decide if a recipe is right for you, and whether you can modify it to better suit your needs. Any questions? Call your healthcare provider for guidance.

One caveat: baked goods are moist by nature. If you bring one to work, keep it in an airtight container and don't leave it in your desk more than a few days. Otherwise, it's mold city.

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Wait! There's More

The following foods can also be stored in your desk for that 3 p.m. lull:

  • Pre-packaged snack bars: Some brands are made especially for people with diabetes, while others have been okayed by diabetes experts. It's best to research before you buy, or ask a doctor.
  • Kale chips: Feather-light and comparatively low in carbs, many homemade and commercial kale chips can be chomped with few reservations. Always check labels for fat and calorie content to be sure.
  • Graham crackers: They probably won't tide you over until dinner, unless you add a teaspoon of peanut butter. But for something quick, sweet and crunchy, one or two mini-rectangles will do the trick.

One food that didn't make the list: avocado. It's not because this healthy fruit isn't good for type 2 diabetes; it's that you should only eat part of a whole avocado at a time, and having to store it afterward requires refrigeration. Maybe it's best saved for your next job.

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