For most of us, a typical sweet craving hits like a hurricane and fills our brain with visions of mounds of cupcakes, gleaming towers of donuts, and infinite bowls of blood-red Swedish Fish itching to swim straight down our gullet.
Small problem with that, which you almost certainly already know: It’s been proven time and time again that the human body wasn’t made to withstand the amounts of sugar we’re collectively consuming, and it’s having disastrous effects on our health, including raising our risk for diabetes and heart disease, and cancer. In fact, Robert Lustig, a leading U.S. obesity expert believes sugar is an addictive toxin and should be regulated in the same way as cigarettes.
Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t crave the stuff—we sure do—but it does mean we should think twice before sidling up to the vending machine every day at 3 p.m., or hightailing it to Starbucks for a Venti Caramel Frappucino.
There are plenty ways to indulge your sweet tooth without turning to junk food whose ingredients are downright frightening. For the record, a pack of Swedish fish is made with the following: Sugar, Invert Sugar, Corn syrup, Modified corn starch, Citric acid, White Mineral Oil, Artificial flavors, FD&C Red 40 for the red color. Yum.
Read on for 12 perfect ways to get a sweet fix—without sacrificing your health.
1. Iced green tea with soy milk
We swear: This slightly creamy drink will quell any sweet cravings like a pro. It’s super-economical—a jug of unsweetened iced green tea costs around $4, while a container of soy milk costs about $3—and it’s amazingly satisfying when served over ice.
On the go? Here’s a little tip: Pop into Starbucks and order an unsweetened iced green tea shaken with a little soy milk—it’s better than any Frappucino—with none of the added sugar, fat, and other junk you’ll find in drinks like that.
2. Frozen fruit
Sure, you can freeze your own, but pre-cut bags of frozen fruit is an unbelievably convenient way to satisfy a sugar craving without any refined sugar or nasty preservatives. Frozen cherries, especially, are super-sweet, while mango and papaya taste like you’re eating sorbet. Just be aware of how much you eat—there’s no added sugar, but natural sugars are still present, so pay attention to serving size.
3. Frozen fruit pops
If you’re looking to get a little more involved, try making your own fruit pops. We’re loving the below, from Design Love Fest, which includes almond milk, OJ, oranges, strawberries and some optional vanilla protein powder! That’s it. Check out the recipe here.
Photo: Design Love Fest
4. Frozen Greek yogurt bites
We’re loving this recipe, from Greatest: Combine 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup frozen berries and stir until the fruit has broken down and the mixture has an even consistency. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and drop 1/4 teaspoons of the mixture onto the sheet. Freeze until solid and pour all the drops into a plastic baggie. Store in the freezer until you’re ready to snack!
5. Pan-seared cinnamon banana slices
Hel-lo: Sliced bannans rolled in cinnamon and nutmeg, then cooked in the pan with a little olive oil for three minutes.. If you’re not opposed, add some Splenda or granulated Stevia for an extra sweet kick. This also makes a seriously impressive dessert for company.
6. Rum broiled grapefruit
Super-gourmet and super-healthy, this treat includes broiling a grapefruit with rum, cinnamon, cayenne, cherries, and a touch of brown sugar, which of course is optional. Check out the recipe at Saveur!
Photo: Saveur.com / Ingalls Photography
7. A small banana and a teaspoon of almond butter
This healthy—and surprisingly rich—snack clocks in at only 100 calories, and offers potassium and protein with no added sugar or chemicals.
8. Popcorn + fixings
Popcorn is actually a whole grain (who knew!), and a 2.5-cup serving has 70 calories, 13 grams of carbohydrates, and three grams of fiber. Sorry, but movie popcorn doesn’t count. To get the benefits, it has to be air-popped, and plain. For an added dose of sweet, sprinkle on some pure cocoa powder, cinnamon, or grate some dark chocolate on top and microwave for a few seconds!
9. Homemade sour watermelon gummies
We’ve already mentioned some of the horrifying stuff found in pre-packed gummy snacks (ahem, FD&C Red 40), but the fact remains that sometimes nothing satisfies a candy craving quite like heaping handfuls of gummy bears, sour peaches, or the aforementioned red fish.
Luckily, the geniuses over at Meatify came up with a homemade recipe for sour watermelon gummies that includes only 5 ingredients: Melon, grass-fed gelatin, fresh lemon juice, and raw honey. Head there now for the complete recipe.
10. White sangria without sugary extras
Hey, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Skip the sugar-filled mixed drinks and opt for this light sangria. Sangria is wine-based, but it’s also packed with sugar, brandy and, often, ginger ale. To cut major calories, use white wine (preferably a light varietal like Riesling or pinot grigio, which have fewer calories than those with higher alcohol content such as Chardonnay and sauvignon blanc), lots of of chopped fruit (we like apples, strawberries, pears, and peaches) and seltzer. You won’t miss the sugary stuff at all.
11. 60% Cacao dark chocolate
You’ve heard it before, but one ounce of dark chocolate packs a hefty dose of anti-oxidants and it’ll ease your sugar cravings thanks to its rich, intense, slightly bitter flavor. The trick, however, is seeking out stuff that’s at least 60% cacao, which contains little or no added sugar. And—because it’s interesting—here’s a good primer on what makes dark chocolate a reliably healthy treat.
12. Chomp on gum
Fine, it’s not as exciting as a piece of chocolate, but if you’re looking to avoid giving into sweet craving completely, try chewing a piece of gum. “Research has shown that chewing gum can reduce food cravings,” nutrition advisor Dave Grotto, RD, LDN, told Web MD.