Take a break from the cookies with these great-tasting, better-for-you alternatives.
I’m in the midst of a month-long added sugar cleanse, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s been tough. Very tough. I attended a Christmas baking party and did the dishes while my family ate chocolate; I received a warm cookie upon checking in at a hotel and sniffed it longingly before throwing it out; and I’ve gone to bed hungry many nights since cutting my after-dinner dessert habit. This challenge has massively tested my willpower, and with one week left in the cleanse, that willpower is wearing thin.
Yet my one saving grace has been fruit. Of course I’ve always known that fruit is naturally sugary, but I’ve been surprised at just how well a perfectly sweet piece of produce can satisfy the cruelest of hankerings. So while you’re probably not on an added sugar cleanse like me (at least, I hope you’re not), in the spirit of making your holidays a little bit healthier, here is a roundup of eight especially sweet fruits, all recommended by food experts, that can serve as great substitutes when your next cookie craving strikes.
This sweet, chewy, tender and every-so-slightly smoky dried fruit is a stellar choice if you’re craving something sticky and sweet like pecan pie, says Liza Kimminau, manager of Bumble Bee Juice in Easton, Maryland. They’re naturally full of fiber, potassium, and antioxidants, and plenty sweet when eaten plain, though you can also make a more substantial snack by halving the fruit, adding a teaspoon of your favorite nut butter, and sprinkling on homemade granola, Kimminau recommends. Just keep in mind that because the fruit is dried, it is more caloric than its fresh counterparts, packing about 275 calories per 3.5 ounce serving.
Figs are sweet, hearty, and full of flavor—all qualities that make them a great substitute if you’re craving something somewhat dense like a nut cake, says Kimminau. They’re also a great source of fiber. For a sweet breakfast, lunch, snack or dessert, top a couple of slices of your favorite whole grain or sprouted grain toast with organic ricotta cheese. Then, add fresh, sliced figs on top, recommends Kimminau.
This hearty, juicy fruit, full of fiber and antioxidants, is a go-to option for satisfying citrusy, custardy dessert cravings (think key lime pie or lemon bars), says Kimminau. For a dessert-like version, sprinkle slices of pears (Kimminau recommends the Concorde varietal, which have a sweet vanilla flavor) with cinnamon and ginger. Place the slices in a large baking dish, top with a quarter-cup of water, cover with foil, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the oven at 375°F until tender, flipping once or twice during cooking.
These plump orbs are bursting with sweet, tart flavor, plus Vitamins C, K and antioxidants. “Perfectly ‘poppable’ and addictive, grapes are the ideal snack when craving something sweet and fun to eat, like candy or popsicles,” says Kimminau. For a frozen, mini popsicle-esque treat, simply rinse your grapes, stick them in the freezer, and enjoy once thoroughly chilled. You can also toss grapes with oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary, and place them on a baking sheet in an oven preheated at 425°F for 30 minutes. These roasted grapes make a tasty standalone snack, or work well in salads, says Kimminau. They’re also delicious in a grain bowl.
This tropical, slightly floral fruit is loaded with fiber, vitamin C, and bromelain, an enzyme that may help with inflammation and digestion, says Sara Haas, registered dietitian and author of Fertility Foods and Taco! Taco! Taco!. It’s also wonderfully sweet. Eat it when you’re craving a sugary beverage, suggests Haas, who recommends freezing cubed pineapple for a chilled treat.
You can also mimic the flavor of pineapple upside down cake by sprinkling large slices of pineapple with cinnamon and allspice and placing them on a nonstick grill, suggests Jess Swift, a Washington, D.C.-based chef and registered dietitian. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes per side or until the pineapple begins to brown.
For a sweet, slightly tart-tasting snack that’s both crisp and refreshing, try a Fuji apple. With a hefty 4 grams of fiber and just 100 calories per medium apple, this varietal is a waistline-friendly choice that also packs Vitamin C and other antioxidants, says Haas. Eat it when you’re craving something sweet with a crunch, she suggests, by either chowing it plain or topping it with nut or seed butter for added protein and sweetness.
If you’re in the mood for something more decadent—apple cobbler, anyone?—simply core your apple, leaving the bottom half-inch intact. Then, sprinkle chopped pecans, cinnamon, and a little lemon juice in the middle and bake on 325°F for 35 minutes or until soft. “This is great way to enjoy the apple cobbler flavor without all of the calories from the crust and added sugars,” says Swift.
Along with an earthy sweet taste, this type of blueberry, slightly smaller than the farm-grown version, delivers fiber, Vitamin A, potassium, folate, and Vitamin C, says Haas. Chow a handful of these the next time you’re craving a super-sugary breakfast cereal. They’re a great topper on morning cereal or overnight oats, and also pair well with plain yogurt for a sweet and creamy snack, she says.
This low-calorie stone fruit, a moderate source of Vitamins A and C, is plenty sweet by itself, but it becomes even more delicious when transformed into a healthy version of a peach galette. To do so, cut the fruit in half, and sprinkle it with cardamom and ginger. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until the peach begins to soften. Drizzle with a balsamic glaze and top with fresh mint, says Swift.