America’s love of sugar has gotten a little out of control—we’ve gone from adding it to sweet things like pies, fudge, and muffins to having it listed as one of the first ingredients in everything from canned soup to crackers to breakfast sandwiches.
But as more research reveals the not-so-sweet side effects of too much sugar—including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease—more of us are trying to cut back. And luckily that doesn’t have to mean a tearful farewell to pancakes, brownies, ice cream, and finger-licking barbecue chicken forever.
We searched high and low for some of the best treats that pass the delicious (and healthy!) test without including any added sugars (other than natural ones from fruit) or artificial sweeteners. Now that’s a sweet deal.
Give the average berry muffin a makeover with a crown of toasty almonds and banana to replace the sugar. With all that fresh fruit goodness, they’ll be plenty sweet and a much better choice than anything from the bakery. Pick any berry you like—they’re all high in fiber and antioxidants.
With this 20-minute recipe, pancakes can be an option any day, not just on weekends. With whole-wheat flour, eggs, and bananas, they turn out fluffy and delicious. Forgo topping with the optional honey and use even more fresh fruit like pineapple, mango, or kiwi.
Instant packaged oatmeal might seem like a good breakfast option, but the flavored ones can go overboard on the sugar. Making stovetop oatmeal is a way better option, especially when it tastes like apple pie! This recipe is super easy, plus oats are always a good choice since studies show they keep you full for hours The Role of Meal Viscosity and Oat β-Glucan Characteristics in Human Appetite Control: A Randomized Crossover Trial. Rebello, C.J., Chu, Y.F., Johnson, W.D., et al. Nutrition Journal, 2014 May 28;13:49. and reduce cholesterol Cholesterol-Lowering Effects of Oat β-Glucan: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Whitehead, A., Beck, E.J., Tosh, S., et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2014 Dec;100(6):1413-21..
One of the best-tasting breakfasts has got to be banana bread, but it’s usually so full of oil or butter that it can feel more like eating a slice of cake. This recipe uses mashed banana, milk, and unsweetened applesauce for the wet ingredients to cut down on the fat while still keeping the loaf nice and moist. For long-term storage, slice the whole loaf once it’s cooled and freeze individual portions in zip-top bags.
Packaged granola seems like a healthy morning meal, but a quick glance at the nutritional info usually unveils tons of sugar and oil. Making it at home couldn’t be simpler, and it will make the whole house smell heavenly. This mix turns out crunchy with chewy clusters, just the way granola should be. Use whatever fruit, nuts, and seeds you want.
We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the weekend than by setting up a waffle bar. Whip up a batch of these waffles with a tropical flair, and then go wild with a bunch of healthy toppings. Toasted nuts, fresh fruit, roasted veggies, and an egg are all great options.
Muffins seem like such a good idea when you’re eating them, but then an hour or so later, they usually lead to a massive sugar crash and a growling stomach. These are flavored with unsweetened applesauce and fresh cherries, plus the recipe calls for whole-wheat flour for more fiber that will help keep you full. This is one pastry that makes you feel good all morning.
There’s nothing better than the smell of blueberry pancakes at a diner. (And there’s nothing worse than having to wait for more than an hour to grab a seat!) Skip the craziness by whipping up a batch of flapjacks at home. This gluten-free and sugar-free version comes together in minutes. Though the recipe calls for wild blueberries, any blueberries, fresh or frozen, will taste great.
Nut and seed lovers, this granola’s for you! Raisins mix with oats, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and nuts, then get a drizzle of coconut oil for a little sweet. A touch of almond extract and cinnamon transforms a pretty basic mix into an amazing topping for yogurt, fruit, or smoothie bowls.
Apple chips are a tasty treat, but they can have all sorts of strange sounding preservatives. Yikes! Spend a weekend making a batch of these sweet chips dusted with cinnamon, and they’ll be ready for snacking all week long. The method works with any apple, so feel free to swap in any of your favorite varieties.
Dried apricots are a fine snack, but they don’t have much staying power on their own. These bars combine the fruit with dates, almonds, and almond butter for a sweet, chewy bite. Vanilla and coconut add that “extra” something to the party without being too in-you-face (er, taste buds?). Best of all, they’re no-bake and will last for two weeks in the fridge.
Trail mix always sounds like a healthy snack, but it’s usually more chocolate and candy than it is nuts and fruit. Mixing together coconut chips, nuts, seeds, and some fruit makes for a trail mix that lives up to its healthy reputation. A few cacao nibs add a little chocolate flair without going overboard.
When the afternoon slump hits, arm yourself with these apple treats that taste every bit as good as a slice of pie but won’t leave you lethargic. Blend dried apples, dates, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt in the food processor, and then form them into balls. They’ll be ready to go when you are and you don’t even need to pack a fork.
Granola bars are an easy snack for busy days, but packaged ones are often more candy bar than health food. These homemade snacks have just enough sweetness from dates and lots of crunch from sunflower and pumpkin seeds. This recipe makes about a dozen bars, so freeze extras for those crazy days when heading to the vending machine is all too easy.
Some energy bars give you pep by packing in the… sugar and artificial sweeteners? Something about that doesn’t seem quite right. These use nuts for healthy fats and dates for good carbs that keep you going all afternoon. Simply mix together the ingredients, spread into a dish, and bake for one of the easiest and tastiest snacks.
Cookies and Dessert Bars
Red velvet cake is just about the prettiest dessert out there, but it’s a total sugar and calorie bomb. This healthier twist gets a similar gorgeous color from beets. The combination of dates, figs, and the root veggie gives these just enough sweetness plus fiber and antioxidants. They’re so good, there’s no need for icing (really!).
Overripe bananas usually wind up baked into a loaf, but they’re also perfect for these vegan and gluten-free cookies. The best part is that oats are the only other ingredient. Just squish them together, drop onto a sheet tray, and bake. Although they’re great as is, use this as a the perfect blank canvas for some mix-ins like nuts or coconut.
Blondies are so delicious thanks in large part to the butterscotch taste from brown sugar, but these somehow have that same flavor thanks to dates. A combo of almond flour and almond butter give a rich, nutty taste that’s irresistible. Flax eggs might sound complicated, but it’s as easy as mixing ground flaxseed with water.
How is it possible that a triple-layer dessert can contain not a grain of added sugar and still taste delicious? This recipe cooks up dates with a bit of orange and vanilla until it forms a rich, sticky filling that’s sandwiched between two crispy, nutty, coconutty layers. These bars are perfect for those on a Paleo diet, those avoiding sugar, and vegans. Sounds pretty perfect, huh?
There’s nothing more disappointing than biting into a brownie only to discover that it’s dry and tasteless. This version skips the baking altogether for a dessert that’s rich, fudgy, and also vegan. Blend the dates, walnuts, coconut oil, and cocoa powder in the food processor, and then press it into a baking dish. They’re delicious as is, but the sugar-free icing adds even more indulgence.
Red, white, and blue pops look practically pathetic alongside these colorful beauties, which are made entirely from fruit that’s been pureed for less sugar plus more vitamins and fiber. The process of blending, cleaning, and layering takes a bit of time, but the results are well worth the effort. Though this recipe calls for kiwi, blueberries, strawberries, mango, watermelon, and pineapple, any fruit will work.
As any vegan knows, coconut milk makes insanely creamy ice cream—nobody would guess that it’s dairy-free. This one adds in pistachios, oranges, and dates (try finding that flavor in stores!) and comes together in the blender before a trip to trip to the freezer, making it one of the easiest ice creams to pull together.
Food is always more fun when it’s on a stick, and these popsicles prove that. Made from bananas, peanut butter, and yogurt, they’re like a frosty PB cup. They also pack a fair amount of calcium, potassium, and protein, so they’re as healthy as they are delicious. No popsicle molds? No problem! Just pour the mix into small cups, pop them into the freeze for about an hour, and then add the sticks.
Frozen yogurt is famous for being lower in fat than ice cream, but it’s also filled with an absurd amount of sugar (and who knows what else!?). This recipe swaps in banana for a taste that’s just sweet enough. Freeze a bunch of bananas ahead so you’re always ready when a craving for something cool and creamy hits.
There aren’t many low-sugar frozen dessert options in the grocery store, and there are even fewer without artificial sweeteners, so making one at home is the best option. This coconut vanilla ice cream tastes rich and decadent, but it contains no sugar or dairy. With just two ingredients, it’s also about as simple as it gets. It doesn’t even require an ice cream maker!
Fudgesicles always sound good, but they’re usually too sweet and not chocolaty enough. These pops get their creamy texture from cashews and soymilk, sweetness from bananas and dates, and rich flavor from cocoa powder. Kids and adults will devour them.
For the flavors of pumpkin pie with the dreamy texture of ice cream, look no further than this frozen concoction. Made with pumpkin puree, coconut milk, dates, and spices, this treat makes the flavor of fall available any time of the year. It could be a new contender for Thanksgiving dessert.
Some nights, takeout just beckons, and sweet and sour chicken is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, that bright red sauce (Why is it red anyway?) is so packed with sugar that it can taste like glaze for baked goods. This recipe uses pineapple and all-fruit apricot preserves (check the label!) for sweetness while rice wine vinegar adds a bit of tang. Though the steps take a little bit of time, it couldn’t be easier to prepare.
There’s something super comforting about BBQ pork sandwiches. For a new take on the classic, this recipe combines tomatoes, spices, vinegar, and pineapple for a sweet and tangy sauce. The best part? This dish comes together in a slow cooker, so just blend the sauce and pour it over the pork for a dinner that requires zero maintenance.
Sloppy joes tend to be made with ketchup and brown sugar, but this recipe gets the same rich flavor with tomato sauce and raisins. Lean beef is rich in protein and one of the best sources of iron, making this a winner of a dinner.
An updated take on pork chops and applesauce, this one-skillet supper offers a lot more texture and nutrition. Sweet apples and onions pair perfectly with the savory lean meat. Keeping the skin on the apples ups the fiber and vitamins and makes for a beautiful presentation.
Peach sauce goes great with chicken, but a lot of times recipes call for jams or jellies that leave the final product more sweet than savory. This sauce cooks up easily by combining peaches, mustard, vinegar, and some spices on the stove before a trip to the blender. Don’t be scared away by the long cook time because most of it’s just letting the chicken simmer.