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Free-Food Snacks: Low-Calorie, Low-Carb Diabetic Snacks

Free foods have less than 20 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving. Find out how to use these low-calorie and low-carb foods as healthy diabetic snacks to get you through between-meal cravings or add flavor to dishes.

Free Foods for People with Diabetes

When you have the munchies but no calories or carbohydrate grams to spare, get your fix with a free-food snack. A free food, as defined by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), is any food, drink, condiment, or seasoning that contains less than 20 calories and 5 grams or less of carb per serving.

ADA guidelines suggest you can eat up to three free-food servings per day without counting them in your diabetes meal plan. Do spread them out through the day. The small amount of carb they contain should have little impact on your blood glucose.

Before eating free foods, keep in mind that:

-- Eating three free-food snacks with about 20 calories each adds up to 60 extra calories, which could ultimately impact your waistline and efforts to lose weight if you include free foods every day.

-- Free foods, other than small amounts of some fruits and vegetables, contain few to no calories and minimal to no nutrition.

-- If chosen wisely, free-food snacks can enhance the flavor of nutritious foods while adding minimal calories.

The following slides give you free-food snack ideas to keep your stomach satisfied without ramping up your blood sugar.

Lemon-Pepper Cucumbers

When you need a refreshing low-calorie snack, nibble on 1/2 cup of sliced cucumbers for just 8 calories and 2 grams of carb.

Taste treat: Drizzle a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper over the cucumber slices. Both count as free in the moderate amounts typically used for flavoring foods.

Tip: Cucumbers are often waxed to prevent moisture loss. If you plan to eat the peel, opt for cucumbers sealed in plastic in lieu of waxing (although the wax is edible, it's not tasty). During the summer months, shop for locally grown, unwaxed cucumbers.

Did you know: Cucumbers made into dill pickles lose some of their water-soluble vitamins, including vitamin C, in the pickling process -- and gain sodium from added salt.

Minty Ice Cubes

If your typical source of minty fresh breath is mouthwash, you're in for a treat when you try fresh mint leaves. This aromatic herb won't cost you any carb grams or calories in the small amounts needed to flavor foods and drinks.

Taste treat: Mince fresh mint, combine it with water in an ice cube tray, and freeze. Add the cubes to water or unsweetened iced tea for a calorie-free treat.

Tip: Check for fresh mint in the produce section of the supermarket, or grow your own in a container garden. If using dried mint, crush the leaves between your fingers to help bring out the flavor.

Did you know: Mint leaves that are picked before the plant starts to flower have more flavor.

Basil Tomatoes

If you're a tomato fan, the cherry-size orbs are perfect for guilt-free nibbling. You can enjoy a snack of 1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes for just 13 calories and 2 grams of carb.

Taste treat: For added flavor, sprinkle fresh minced basil or dried basil (a free seasoning) over cherry tomato halves.

Tip: Avoid storing unripe tomatoes in the refrigerator, as the cold temperature can prevent them from ripening.

Did you know: Tomatoes pack a bevy of antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, plus heart-healthy lycopene.

Almondy Coffee

If you want a creamy, milklike beverage but can't afford the calories or carbs, pour yourself 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla nondairy beverage for just 20 calories and 1 gram of carb.

Taste treat: Add a splash of Almond Breeze to your black coffee (also considered a free food) and skip typical processed creamers. Many nondairy coffee creamers contain small amounts of harmful trans fat, often labeled as partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list.

Tip: Almond Breeze is a lower-calorie stand-in for cow's milk. But if you want protein and have 90 calories and 12 grams of carb to spend per cup, skim or fat-free cow's milk is still your best bet. Compare: 1 cup skim milk = 8 grams protein; 1 cup Almond Breeze = 1 gram protein.

Did you know: Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla is fortified to supply 25 percent of your daily vitamin E needs, 10 percent of your calcium needs, and 12 percent of your vitamin D needs in a 1/2 cup.

Greek Strawberries

Skip chocolate-dipped strawberries and pair the fruit with fat-free plain Greek yogurt instead. Three strawberries swirled in a tablespoon of fat-free plain Greek yogurt will cost you a total of 20 calories and 4 grams of carb (a typical single chocolate-dipped strawberry has 50-75 calories).

Taste treat: Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier (even the fat-free varieties) than regular yogurt, thanks to a straining process that removes the liquid whey from the yogurt. It pairs perfectly with any fresh or frozen fruit.

Tip: Greek yogurt can stand in for high-fat and less nutritious condiments such as sour cream, mayonnaise, and whipped cream. Try a dollop of fat-free plain Greek yogurt on tomato soup, a baked potato, a soft-shell chicken taco, or a special dessert.

Did you know: Greek yogurt has twice the amount of hunger-satisfying protein per serving than regular yogurt. Greek yogurt is also a super source of good bacteria (probiotics) to support digestive health.

Cream Cheese Radishes

Radishes are about as guilt-free as food can get. Each medium-size radish has just 1 calorie and well under half a gram of carb. Nibble on a few when the aroma of dinner cooking is getting the best of you.

Taste treat: Creamy meets crunchy when you spread 3 red radishes with 1 tablespoon fat-free cream cheese, then lightly sprinkle them with chives (also a free food). This simple snack has just 20 calories and 2 grams of carb, and it makes a pretty appetizer.

Tip: Opt for small or medium-size radishes, because larger radishes tend to be more fibrous and have a sharper flavor.

Did you know: A medium-size radish supplies 1 percent of your daily vitamin C. And 1 cup of sliced radishes provides 29 percent of your daily vitamin C -- but only 19 calories and 4 grams of carb.

Crunchy Salad

Salad greens are satisfying because you get a lot of crunch for very few calories. A 1-cup serving of lettuce has just 8 calories and 2 grams of carb. Pair the lettuce with up to 1 tablespoon fat-free salad dressing and your snack will still count as a free food.

Taste treat: Toss lettuce with your choice of fresh herb leaves, such as basil, cilantro, dill, or parsley. They all count as free foods and won't affect your calorie or carb counts in the small quantities used to flavor foods.

Tip: Butterhead and leaf lettuces will keep in your refrigerator for about four days. Romaine lettuce can be refrigerated about 10 days. Iceberg lettuce will keep up to 2 weeks, but it's the least nutritious.

Did you know: Just 1 cup of butterhead lettuce (which includes Boston and Bibb lettuces) supplies 10 percent of your daily folate needs, a B vitamin important for heart health.

Flavor-Infused Water

You don't have to guzzle drinks sweetened with sugar or low-calorie sweeteners to enjoy water with a bit of flavor. Many stores sell unsweetened bottled water with essences of fruit, mint, and other flavors that are naturally calorie- and carbohydrate-free.

Taste treat: Got a chocolate craving? Try Metromint chocolate-flavor water. Feeling fruity? Pick up a bottle of Hint water flavored with fruit essence. Like a little fizz? Enjoy Perrier citrus-flavor sparkling mineral water. Each has 0 calories.

Tip: Although buying bottled flavored water is handy, you can save money if you make your own. Drop a few fresh cucumber slices, raspberries, or pineapple slices into a glass of water and chill for a couple of hours, then sip with delight.

Did you know: The foods we eat typically contribute about 3 cups of water to our daily intake of liquids.

Turkey-Carrot Roll-Up

For a bit of protein between meals, try spreading mustard on a 1/2-ounce slice of turkey breast lunch meat, then roll it up to eat. You'll get 14 calories, 0 grams of carb, and 3 grams of protein in the turkey meat. A teaspoon of yellow mustard has just 3 calories and 1 grams of carb.

Taste treat: For a bit of crunch, roll up a single carrot stick in the turkey lunchmeat. A typical 3-inch carrot stick has only 3 calories and less than 1 gram of carb.

Tip: Next time you roast a turkey or chicken, slice some of the breast meat extra thin (you may want to use an electric knife) and freeze the meat to use in place of high-sodium (and expensive) lunch meats.

Did you know: Although common yellow mustard is classified as a free condiment, honey mustard has 7 grams of carb per tablespoon.

Berry Blues

Pop blueberries in your mouth one by one for a fruity treat. They count as a free food when you limit your serving to 1/4 cup, which has 20 calories and 5 grams of carb.

Taste treat: You'll get more blueberries per serving (for the same calories and carbs) when you choose wild blueberries. That's because they're a bit smaller than regular cultivated blueberries. If you don't live in an area that harvests wild blueberries, check for unsweetened wild blueberries in the freezer section of your grocery store.

Tip: Choose blueberries with a silvery-white sheen on the surface, which is a sign of freshness.

Did you know: Blueberries are rich in heart-healthy antioxidants called anthocyanins, which is what makes the blueberry skin blue. You get more blueberry skin -- and more anthocyanins -- per serving when you eat wild blueberries versus cultivated blueberries, but both are great sources.

Kohlrabi Sticks

When you're craving something crunchy beyond carrots, celery, and other typical crudite-platter offerings, try sticks or slices of kohlrabi. This veggie's flavor is sweet and crisp, slightly similar to a radish. Enjoy half a cup for just 18 calories and 4 grams of carb, including 2 grams of fiber.

Taste treat: Top your next sandwich with thin slices of raw kohlrabi for a tasty, low-cal crunch

Tip: Fresh kohlrabi is sold in green or purple varieties. The purple kind has a slightly spicier flavor. Either way, peel the outer skin before eating.

Did you know: Kohlrabi is a super source of antioxidant vitamin C, providing 70 percent of your daily needs in just half a cup of the raw veggie.

Sweet Herbal Tea

Treat your taste buds with a naturally sweet cup of herbal tea. Flavors such as caramel, licorice, and vanilla carry hints of sweetness and delightful aromas due to the herbs and spices used. Best of all, a straight-up cup typically has 0 calories.

Taste treat: For the most flavorful tea, opt for loose-leaf rather than tea in bags, and make it with purified water. Let the tea steep 2-5 minutes, and keep the tea covered while it's steeping.

Tip: Some teas are made of a combination of caffeine-free herbal ingredients and caffeine-containing tea leaves (such as black tea), so check the ingredients if you're avoiding caffeine.

Did you know: Both air and light can diminish the flavor of tea, so keep it in opaque, airtight metal containers to retain peak flavor for 6 months.

Balsamic Cabbage

When you're craving something crunchy between meals, try 1/2 cup shredded cabbage, which has just 8 calories and 2 gram of carb. Raw cabbage pairs perfectly with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which has 5 calories and 1 gram of carb per teaspoon.

Taste treat: Add flavor to raw cabbage with caraway seeds, dill weed, parsley, or curry powder. Each herb or spice counts as a free food in the small amounts used to season foods.

Tip: You can store raw cabbage in your refrigerator crisper for 1-2 weeks. Once you cut it, its odor intensifies, so store it tightly wrapped in plastic and away from other foods.

Did you know: Cabbage is a super source of vitamin C. A 1/2-cup serving of red cabbage supplies 42 percent of your daily vitamin C, while 1/2 cup of green cabbage provides 27 percent of your daily vitamin C.

Crispbread

Kavli Crispy Thin Whole Grain Crispbread is made from 100 percent whole grain rye flour. Plus it's fat-free and low in sodium with a mild nutty flavor and easy crunch. One generous-size slice qualifies as a free-food serving, with 17 calories and 4 grams of carb.

Taste treat: Although this crispbread is thin, it holds up well to low-fat spreads, salsas, and other low-calorie toppings. Try a few creative combinations when you have room in your calorie and carb allotment.

Tip: If your local supermarket doesn't carry this product (or any product you’d like to try), ask the store manager to order it for you. Another one to buy: Wasa Crisp'n Light 7 Grains cracker bread with 20 calories and 4.5 grams of carb per slice.

Did you know: Experts recommend eating at least 48 grams of whole grains a day. A single slice of this Kavli crispbread contributes 4 grams toward your daily quota.

Low-Carb Meals

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