Ah, sugar. Most of us turn to sugary snacks to help us get through the day. It’s a hard habit to break, for sure.
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While foods like pastries, desserts and candy are full of sugar, you may not realize that some other popular snacks contain hidden sugar — granola, breakfast cereal and protein bars, to just name a few.
Those snacks may provide a shot of quick rocket-fuel energy, but often result with you crashing by the end of the day.
According to the American Heart Association, women should eat no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons or 100 calories) of sugar per day. Men should eat no more than 36 grams (9 teaspoons or 150 calories) per day.
So, how can you overcome that afternoon or late-night sugar craving? It’s all about making sure you’re picking snacks that’ll help fuel your body in the best way.
“For every snack, you should choose a fiber-rich carbohydrate with either a lean protein or a healthy fat,” says registered dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDCES.
Carbohydrates are digested and absorbed fastest, while proteins are digested and absorbed faster than fat, but slower than carbohydrates. And fats are digested and absorbed the slowest.
“You want to pick a fast fuel with a slower fuel,” says Taylor. “And you don’t want your fast fuel to burn up too quickly, so choose a high-fiber carb to help extend that initial burst of energy.”
What to eat when you’re craving sugar
Looking for a snack that will satisfy that sugar carving but is also healthy? Taylor suggests the following five options.
Apricots and almonds
Dried fruits and nuts can help you have a healthy snack on hand when you’re on the go.
Apricots provide carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and minerals. Almonds provide fiber, protein and healthy fats. And they don’t contain any added sugar unlike a lot of dried fruit varieties.
“When you put those two together, you’re getting fuel for now with the apricots and then fuel for later with the almonds,” notes Taylor.
A serving includes three dried apricots and 12 almonds.
Greek yogurt and cinnamon
Greek yogurt has lots of protein, which is a slower-burning fuel than carbs.
Pair it with cinnamon, which research shows may have anti-inflammatory properties and may impact blood sugar levels in a positive way, is an easy way to add flavor.
For this snack, add a pinch of cinnamon to a 3/4 cup of plain low-fat Greek yogurt.
“You can also add a 1/2 cup of frozen or fresh mango or blueberries to the snack to give it some more flavor,” suggests Taylor.
Peanut butter and an apple
It’s a tried-and-true favorite for a reason. Not only does a small apple with peanut butter taste good, but it’s also good for you.
And make sure you eat the apple peel in addition to its fleshy insides.
“You’ll get two kinds of fiber,” explains Taylor. “You’ll get insoluble fiber from the outside and soluble fiber from the inside.”
Then slathering on 1 tablespoon of peanut butter will add protein and healthy fat. But it’s important to watch how much peanut butter you actually use.
“A lot of people like to keep adding peanut butter to their apple and they end up with a 500-calorie snack,” cautions Taylor. “But if you keep it to 1 tablespoon and a small apple, you’re looking at less than 200 calories.”
Cottage cheese and blueberries
“Berries are some of the best fruit when it comes to fiber, especially blueberries, which are a very fiber-rich fruit,” says Taylor. “And they’re also convenient because you can buy them frozen.”
They’re also a great source of fiber-rich carbohydrates.
Add a cup of fresh or frozen blueberries to a 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese.
“Low-fat cottage cheese is a fantastic protein source,” says Taylor. “It has almost no carbs in it, so that’s why it’s important that you get in that full serving of berries to give you fuel for right now.”
Hummus and raw veggies
A cup of raw veggies like carrots, celery, broccoli and bell peppers can add some variety to your afternoon snack while also touting many benefits.
“Veggies have a good amount of fiber, plus tons of vitamins and minerals,” says Taylor. “If you eat veggies of different colors, you’ll get lots of different phytonutrients that provide additional health benefits.”
Pair your choice of raw veggies with a 1/4 cup of hummus.
“Hummus has a little bit of fiber, a little bit of protein, a little bit of carbs and some healthy fats as well,” says Taylor.
And overcome the desire to pair hummus with pita chips or crackers. Veggies are key here.
“By eating pita chips or crackers, you’ll be getting a lot more carbs and less fiber,” says Taylor.
Tips for curbing sugar cravings
As mentioned, it’s vital that you combine a fiber-rich carbohydrate with either a lean protein or a healthy fat to help stave off those sugar cravings.
Here are some other ways you can try to limit your sugar cravings and keep your energy flowing:
- Drink water throughout the day. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine recommends women drink 91 ounces (2.7 liters) of water each day, while men should drink 125 ounces (3.7 liters) of water daily. But factors like your metabolism, diet, physical activity and health all should be a factor in how much water you need.
- Eating regularly throughout the day. “Skipping meals is probably going to set you up for overeating later,” warns Taylor.
- Make smart choices while grocery shopping. “Your grocery basket should be full of food, not products,” says Taylor.
- Get moving. “Getting up and moving around, especially if you sit at a computer all day, will help with energy levels,” she adds.
- Prioritize sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults aged 26 to 64 get seven to nine hours each night, while those 65 years or older should aim for seven to eight hours.
By putting thought into what type of snacks you’re eating and limiting bad-for-you ingredients, you can make smart choices that will lead to a healthier, more energetic lifestyle.
“Eating healthy is about building the foundation with great foods that are going to help you,” says Taylor, “and also decreasing the focus of some of those foods that aren’t so good for you.”