Satisfying Your Sweet Tooth

Healthy Options to Satiate Cravings

Sweet Tooth [noun] – a great liking for sweet-tasting foods.

Who doesn’t crave a sugary treat after the last bite of an evening meal? Or perhaps your weakness is the frosted cereal you keep stocked in the pantry (for the kids, of course), or the stowed-away candy bar that provides an afternoon pick-me-up?

Not only are sweetened foods comforting, nostalgic, and downright tasty, we as humans are actually hardwired to enjoy them; sweet is the first taste that babies prefer after being born! And while ice cream and other delectable desserts are okay to have as an occasional treat, eating too much has lasting, damaging effects on nearly every part of your body.

Research suggests that the overconsumption of added sugar (more than 6 teaspoons a day for women) contributes to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, rotted teeth, and premature wrinkles. Consuming too much sugar can also leave you feeling irritable, tired, anxious, and hungry. The more sweets you eat, the more you’ll crave them – creating a vicious, seemingly endless, cycle.

If you’re searching for some healthier alternatives, without wanting to give up the good stuff entirely, we have you covered. From naturally sweet spices to chocolate bars and more, it’s possible to satisfy your sweet tooth while still maintaining a balanced diet.

Fill Up on Fruit.

While yes, fruit does have a higher sugar content, it’s all naturally occurring – not the processed stuff you find in candy aisles. Packed with fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins, fresh fruit makes for the perfect snack or after-dinner “dessert.” For a more special treat, try freezing grapes and slices of banana in a small freezer bag. The chilled grapes become a refreshing on-the-go option, while the frozen bananas can be processed with milk, nut butter, or other fruits for banana ice cream. Grilled fruit, like peaches and pineapple, also feels like a sweet indulgence without the added sugar.

The Spice is Right.

Slightly sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves can help to reduce sugar cravings, so don’t be afraid to spice it up the next time you’re in the kitchen! Cinnamon is a delightful addition to oatmeal and can be sprinkled on top of baked sweet potatoes or apples sautéed in butter. Toss your next batch of air-popped popcorn with cinnamon, or roast the spice with chickpeas and a little honey for an easy snack worth sharing.

Pack in the Protein.

A foolproof way to curb sugar cravings is by upping your protein intake. Nut butters, with their naturally sweet quality, tend to do the trick. Whip up some no-bake energy balls, including oats, nut butter, seeds, spices, and honey, to power you through the inevitable afternoon slump. Nonfat Greek yogurt, containing a whopping 10 grams of protein per 100-gram serving, is also handy for making protein-rich parfaits. Use yogurt as your base (staying clear of the flavored varieties!), and add on berries, seeds, and nuts for a breakfast of champions.

Choose [Dark] Chocolate.

Chocolate is definitely not off limits, assuming it’s dark chocolate – meaning the cocoa percentage is 70% or higher. Due to the higher concentration of cocoa, dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants and various minerals, all while boasting a relatively low sugar content. The best part? A square or two should be enough to leave you feeling satisfied, especially when covered with a small scoop of peanut butter!

“We have three young children (twin boys who are six, and a baby girl who’s two), so I’m always trying to get them to eat more fruits and veggies. But of course they love sweet treats, especially ice cream. One of my favorite tricks is to make our own popsicles! I mix up basically a smoothie – yogurt, a little honey, whatever fruit I have on hand, and a little spinach or carrots – in my blender. Be sure to taste test it to make sure it’s yummy (some fruit is actually pretty sour), then freeze in silicone molds. We all love eating them!”
Autumn Witt Boyd
North Chattanooga
“Sweets have always been my kryptonite. I can live without meat, dairy, bread – anything but dessert! When I started dating my boyfriend, his mom began educating me on the importance of a healthy diet. I grew up on fast food and soda, so believe me when I say swapping out my sweets for oats and fiber sounded like my worst nightmare. His mom shared an easy recipe with me, and it’s a nutritious and delicious alternative for processed, high-sugar cookies. I actually like them better than regular thumbprint cookies!”
Holly Gross
North Chattanooga

Holly Gross’s Healthy Thumbprint Cookies

Serves Approximately 26


  • 1 cup almonds or pecans
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • or brown rice syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp. fruit juice-sweetened jam
  • (all natural, no preservatives)


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Photos by Rich Smith

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put almonds and oats into a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a large bowl and add flour, oil, syrup, salt, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine well.
  3. Roll walnut-sized balls of the dough in the palm of your hand to form each cookie, then arrange on two large baking sheets, spacing cookies two inches apart.
  4. Press your thumb gently down into the center of each cookie to make an indentation. Spoon a scant teaspoon of jam into each indentation.
  5. Bake cookies until golden brown and firm around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to let cool completely, then serve immediately or store between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container for up to five days.

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