“Free” Foods – What’s the Story?

Everybody likes getting something for free, right? And, most everybody is also a little suspicious that something offered for free may not really be free. So, what’s the story with “free” foods in a diabetes-friendly eating plan?

Well, it is true that some foods are considered “free foods” when talking about diabetes. The term technically refers to low carbohydrate foods in a portion size that contains 5 or fewer grams of carbohydrate, and 20 calories or less. Of course the low carbohydrate angle is to minimize any impact on blood glucose levels (“free” means you don’t count the carbohydrate), and the modest calorie content is important too since weight management is important for most people with type 2 diabetes.

However, in truth most “free” foods on diabetes exchange lists are almost nonsensical in the scope of what we consider actual food – you can, for example, have an unlimited amount of horseradish or lemon juice. It’s the 20 calorie limit that restricts the “free foods” list to mostly condiments, and I’ll acknowledge it is important to know how much ketchup or whipped topping you can have without counting the carbs (1 tablespoon). But, if we want a snack to quash hunger between meals we’re better off looking for low carbohydrate foods that might have a few more than 20 calories. Often, we can make up for a few extra calories from a between meal snack because we’ll tend to eat less at meals. Here are a few of my favorite low carbohydrate snacks – they aren’t “free”, but they can be a pretty good bargain to help stave off hunger.

  • One cup of popcorn – I like seasoning mine with Parmesan cheese or Italian spices.
  • Beef jerky – all that chewing will keep you busy, and a 1 ounce piece should “weigh in” at about 70 or 80 calories. Look for lower sodium.
  • Celery sticks with almond or peanut butter – these are fabulous, and it doesn’t take much nut butter to get that wonderful, rich taste.
  • Refreshing drinks – in the summer I’ll go for watermelon or strawberry infused water, and in the winter I boil cinnamon sticks to make a fragrant tea.

The secret to snacking is to control the portion size. For instance, remove a 1 ounce piece of beef jerky from its package, and put the rest away somewhere out of sight and out of reach. It takes your brain a little while to get the message that you’re no longer hungry.

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