Indulge—don’t ignore—your hankerings with these better-for-you alternatives.
Credit: Photo: Katherine Flynn

It was the banana caramel crunch ice cream that broke us.

Just seven days in to what was supposed to be a two-week, friend-supported sugar cleanse, Emily, Julie and I buckled over the sight of a small child licking a cone from our favorite local joint, Glacier Ice Cream.

After about 2.5 seconds of consideration, we beelined it and ordered massive scoops ourselves.

Emily’s parents happened to be in Glacier that night, too. They saw us from afar, but didn’t say hi, because they knew about the cleanse, thought we were women of our word and logically concluded it couldn’t possibly be us. It was an embarrassing (yet insanely delicious) slip-up that confirmed what we’d long suspected about ourselves: we’re legit sugar addicts.

This experience, which was my first (and only) attempt at a sugar cleanse, taught me that completely cutting out sugar is no piece of cake. Even reducing your sugar intake, which I’ve tried on other occasions, can be challenging, thanks in large part to the daily habits that many of us (read: me) unwittingly form and then succumb to: the piece of chocolate after lunch ritual, the mid-afternoon Frappuccino break, the nightly spoonful of cookie dough.

These habits can fuel hard-core hankerings that are hard to quash. That’s why, when it comes to an added sugar cleanse, the key to success may not be ignoring these hankerings completely (which was my approach, that of course, backfired), but rather satisfying the cravings in the moment with healthier, cleanse-friendly alternatives.

“Cutting back on added sugars is easier when you have some go-to snacks that help satisfy your sweet cravings,” Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color, tells Cooking Light.

Here, Largeman-Roth and two other experts share zero added sugar treats that will keep you on track with your cleanse...while also keeping your Glacier-esque impulses in check.  

Crunchy Blueberry "Cereal"

“Allow a cup of frozen wild blueberries to defrost a bit and then pour unsweetened almond milk on top. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over it and dig in! The flavor of the wild blueberries is both sweet and a little tangy and I love how the almond milk gets a little slushy from the coldness of the berries.” - Largeman-Roth

Grilled or Baked Fruit with Greek Yogurt and Granola

“Grilled pineapple and peaches and baked apples and pears are some of my favorite quick desserts with no added sugar and plenty of filling fiber. Cooking fruit brings out more of the natural sweetness and the warmth and cinnamon make it feel more like pie than fruit. A sprinkle of sugar-free granola makes this taste like a crumble and gives it some crunch, and the plain (unsweetened) Greek yogurt is a great substitute for the creaminess of whipped cream without all of the calories, sugar and fat. Plus, you're getting some muscle-building protein into your dessert!” - Christy Brissette, MS, RDN, president of 80 Twenty Nutrition

Banana Ice Cream

“This is one of my favorites. All you have to do is mix one frozen banana and 2 T almond butter in a blender. Then, sprinkle unsweetened shredded coconut on top for a little extra crunch.” - Heather Bauer, RDN and nutritionist with Sweet Defeat.

Fresh Fruit Drizzle

“I blend raspberries and blackberries, plus fresh lemon juice together to make a quick sauce that can be drizzled over everything from plain yogurt to oatmeal to pancakes.” - Largeman-Roth

A Bowl of Cherries

“When dark cherries are in season, I just give them a rinse and put them in a bowl. It’s really satisfying (and takes a while) to eat a bowl of cherries!” - Largeman-Roth

Frozen Grapes

"Red grapes are packed with antioxidants and also a trace amount of resveratrol, which can help prevent heart disease. You can indulge in handfuls of frozen grapes without the guilt. It’s a great alternative to chips.” - Bauer

Greek Yogurt Pops

“My favorite yogurt is Siggis, specifically the 4% no added sugar banana & cinnamon or peach & mango flavors. All you have to do is stick it in the freezer and then it turns into a popsicle! It takes forever to eat too, so it’s a dessert that you can enjoy slowly. And fun fact: Greek yogurt has double the protein and naturally half the sugar of regular yogurt!” - Bauer

Frozen Mango

“I always keep cut, frozen mango in my freezer, and when I want something sweet, I pop the cubes into bowl and start snacking. It’s super simple and each cube tastes like a mango popsicle with only 1 ingredient: mango! The cold texture means you can't eat them too fast either. The mango is rich in fiber to fill you up and stabilize blood sugar.” - Brissette

Apple "Donuts"

“It’s not exactly a donut, but definitely looks like one! Core an apple and slice it into quarter-inch pieces. The spread almond, walnut or cashew butter on top and sprinkle unsweetened shredded coconut on top of that. This snack offers a mix of fiber from the apple and protein from the nut butters. Plus, the coconut contains medium chain triglycerides, which can help with satiety.” - Bauer

Get the Recipe: Apple Nachos

Spruced-Up Melon

“Ice cold watermelon slices with a spritz of lime juice are fantastic for a sweet treat on a hot summer’s night.” - Largeman-Roth