Sweet tooth or not, you're probably eating more sugar than you realize. Even though the World Health Organization's recommended limit of added sugar per day is about 6 teaspoons, the average person consumes a whopping 22 teaspoons every day.
Constantly having high levels of sugar in your blood can set you up for serious health issues like diabetes, heart disease, even depression. And chances are you’ve felt the immediate effects of fluctuating spikes and dips in blood sugar, which can wreak havoc on your energy levels, mood, and ability to cope with stress. When your blood sugar is imbalanced, it’s easy to feel irritable and exhausted, have trouble concentrating, and crave, well, more sugar.
Now for some good news: While it’s true that we can all benefit from cutting back on our sugar intake, there are actually a few ways to eat it more healthfully. After all, your body’s cells and brain rely on glucose (sugar in the bloodstream) to function, and you get glucose by eating carbohydrates, or foods that contain sugar. Here are two ways that help keep your blood sugar balanced whenever you’re craving something sweet:
1. Eat sugar-containing foods with a low glycemic index.
First off, the kinds of foods you eat and where your sugar comes from definitely matters (sorry, glazed doughnuts and foods that are high in refined sugar will never be a healthy idea). Every carb-containing food has a different effect on your blood sugar level after you eat it—called the glycemic response. Thankfully, there’s a simplified way to understand how a food will affect your blood sugar, and it’s called the glycemic index (GI).
The GI scores food on a scale from 1 to 100—with pure glucose at 100—to indicate how drastically it makes your blood sugar rise. The sweet spot, so to speak, is under 55. Foods with a low-GI value are more slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized, so the lower a food's GI value, the slower your blood sugar rises after eating it.
A general rule of thumb: The more cooked or processed a food is, the higher its GI, and the more fiber or fat in a food, the lower its GI. That’s why white bread is basically like dessert to your body.
On the other hand, knowing the right snacks to satisfy your sweet cravings will make a big difference in keeping your blood sugar balanced. Perfect Bar, the original refrigerated protein bar, is low on the GI scale but feels like an indulgence: Its dessert-y flavors like Chocolate Walnut Brownie and Dark Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter With Sea Salt are sweetened with natural sugars from organic honey or dates.
2. Balance your sugar with a healthy protein and fat.
The winning formula for curbing blood sugar spikes (and feeling fuller, longer) is to combine carb-containing food with a healthy protein and fat. Adding these satiating macronutrients will help lower a sugary food’s glycemic response by slowing down digestion so sugar stays in your digestive system longer instead of rushing into your bloodstream. As it enters your bloodstream more slowly, insulin can do its thing normally and store it elsewhere (like the muscles or liver) for future use.
When you eat a Perfect Bar, its combination of natural sugars, healthy fats, and whole food protein—as much as 17 grams of protein per bar—causes a slower, lower rise in blood sugar, releasing energy slowly and signaling to your brain that you’re satiated and full. Not to mention the nutritional bonus of eating up to 20 organic superfoods with something that’s satisfying a sweet craving easily makes Perfect Bar live up to its name.
The carb-protein-fat pairing works wonders especially after a tough workout—the best time to indulge your sweet tooth (case in point: chocolate milk after a long race) because your recovering muscles will soak up the excess sugar. And if you really must have that doughnut or sugary treat with a meal, you can lower the overall GI of a meal by adding more healthy fat, protein, and fiber to help keep your blood sugar stable. Bottom line: There’s no need to fixate on depriving yourself of sugar completely—there are just healthier and smarter ways to, say, have your cake and eat it too.