How can I satisfy my sweet tooth without sugar?


The craving for sugary delights is an undeniable part of human nature. We can attribute this craving to our ancestors and the enduring forces of evolution,  renowned evolutionary biologist and Harvard University professor Daniel Lieberman writes,”Sugar is a deep, ancient craving,” tracing this insatiable desire back through the annals of our evolutionary history.

Basically, our bodies are finely tuned to savor sugar, driven by an intrinsic urge to seek it out and stockpile it. This biological predisposition stems from our innate understanding that sugar is a vital source of energy (calories), which was essential for survival in the perpetual quest to outrun predators. Furthermore, the consumption of sugar triggers the release of dopamine, the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter. This physiological response, in turn, instilled a sense of well-being, ultimately guiding our ancestors toward the notion that procreation was a prudent endeavor. Eons ago, sweet morsels were a rarity, so sugar was the exception to people’s diet, not the rule.

Fast forward to modern times, where the need to outrun saber-toothed tigers has been supplanted by the convenience of a morning trip to a drive-thru for a 2000-calorie coffee concoction. Our bodies, however, remain tethered to their ancestral programming, ill-equipped to cope with a world awash in easily accessible sugars, particularly the highly processed varieties.

Americans now consume approximately four times the sugar our bodies can adequately metabolize. The recommended daily limit for “added” sugar, distinct from the naturally occurring sugars found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and yogurts, stands at 100 calories or 6 teaspoons for women and 150 calories or 9 teaspoons for men. This isn’t a lot, considering one of those coffee drinks we mentioned earlier, has all of that and then some.

The craving for sweet treats is an entirely natural craving, but it should never supplant a well-rounded diet. Opting for a balanced diet can help curb our sugar cravings, as there will be less room for additional sugars. We recognize there’s a time and place for everything, and everyone should enjoy their favorite flavors — Grandma’s sweet potato pie, a favorite chocolate chip cookie.

However, when sugary confections become the standard go-to when we’re craving a snack, it’s time to reassess. There are so many options out there to satisfy our sweet tooth without packing on the calories or refined sugars.


  • Swap out ice cream for fruit salad: Opt for seasonal fruits, chop them up, and enhance the flavor with a drizzle of freshly squeezed orange juice or a dollop of vanilla yogurt. It’s a delightful and decadent dessert alternative.
  • Ditch milkshakes in favor of a fruit smoothie: Create a creamy smoothie by using yogurt as the base. Experiment with flavors like vanilla, mixed berries, or even a touch of chocolate. Eliminating ice cream from the mix reduces your sugar intake significantly.
  • Trim down the sugar content in muffin recipes: Let’s face it, muffins are essentially breakfast cupcakes. Check out Harvard School of Health’s “great muffin makeover” for a collection of recipes that cut out at least 25% of the sugar found in traditional recipes.
  • Substitute cakes or cookies with waffles, French toast, or pancakes: Prepare batches of sweet potato waffles, whole wheat French toast, or almond milk pancakes and store them in the freezer. When your sweet tooth beckons, warm one up and garnish with fresh fruit. Breakfast-inspired desserts are a delightful choice.
  • Replace high fructose popsicles with Greek yogurt drops: Combine one cup of unsweetened yogurt with half a cup of frozen berries or fruit. Mix until well blended, then spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet in cookie-sized drops and freeze. Once frozen, transfer them to a Tupperware container and return to the freezer. Grab one whenever you’re ready for a guilt-free indulgence.
  • Embrace the flavors of fall: Baked apples and pears, seasoned with a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, and a hint of sugar, pair exquisitely with chilled yogurt, making for a satisfying dessert that appeases your sweet tooth.
  • Expand your horizons beyond a simple sugar fix: Recognize that our diets naturally contain sugars found in milk, yogurt, kefir, fruits, and grains, which also provide vital nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. By avoiding processed, refined sugars and opting for delectable alternatives such as trail mix with dark chocolate, peanut butter on graham crackers, a handful of dried fruit with yogurt, or chocolate and yogurt-dipped fruits, you not only satisfy your sweet cravings but also meet your dietary requirements.


Develop a healthy relationship with food. There are no “prizes” or “punishments” when it comes to food. Enjoy a rich piece of chocolate cake. Celebrate family traditions. It’s all about moderation and modification. Keep healthy options top of mind, and, the great thing is, the less we eat sugar, the more accustomed we become to these tasty, sweet alternatives.