Low Sugar Treats to Savor
April 27, 2009

pumpkin-ice-cream

Many clients of mine tell me that they’re struggling with sweet cravings after dinner, or that they’re trying to break a dessert habit and failing. Life is sweet, and it’s too short to live without the occasional sweet food—at least in my opinion. But it’s important to stay balanced, and of course eating too much sugar can lead to certain health challenges.

This is when it pays off to have a set of trusty, low-sugar treats to rely on. The following options are ideal for folks who are trying to tame persistent sweet cravings, and they’re also suitable for my readers who are dealing with health challenges that demand a low sugar approach (like candida overgrowth or autoimmune disease management).

Many of these are made with Stevia. If you don’t know what Stevia is, it’s a sugar-free sweetener that you can find in any health food store. Though I prefer using agave, maple sugar, yacon syrup, or coconut nectar to stevia, these sweeteners may still be too sweet for some, so in these cases Stevia is tremendously helpful.

Now, these desserts won’t taste exactly like the desserts you’re used to. But they’re certainly tasty, and over time, you may start to appreciate their moderately sweet taste more than you ever imagined you could! A special thank you goes out to my friend Ricki, who follows an ACD (anti-candida diet) and recently gave her readers a beautiful round up of her own favorite desserts. She helped inspire me to write this post, and I’ve included one of her creations here.

So, without further ado, my favorite low-sugar sweet treats!

1) Dark chocolate

chocolate

If you’re buying chocolate that’s 70% or more cocoa, and free of added sugars (look for syrups or sugars on the label), feel free to indulge! This is a quick, easy low-sugar treat that’s also highly portable, so you can take it out to dinner and not feel like a sad sack while your friends are ordering gooey desserts. Eat up!

2) Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Remember my Pumpkin Pie in a Bowl Soup? Well here’s a neat trick. Make the recipe (omitting any salt) and freeze it overnight. When you’re ready to eat, let it soften (you can throw it in a food processor or Vitamix to give it a soft-serve texture if it’s gotten a little icy).

This is quite possibly my favorite dessert, and it’s absolutely guiltless—frozen or not. It’s healthy, delicious, highly evocative of comforting sweets, and very low in sugar.

pumpkin-ice-cream-2

3) Ricki’s Carob-Coconut Sweeties

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I’ll let the master chef say a few words about these:

“One of my favorite junky sweet treats when I was in my teens and 20s was Nielsen “Macaroons.”  They were essentially milk chocolate (or should I say, “milk chocolate flavored“) rosettes–sort of like Hershey kisses with toasted coconut in them–and I adored them.  I’d stop at the Bulk Barn on my way home from class and purchase a small bag, then munch away during the bus ride home. . .

Although I haven’t eaten the Nielsen variety in about a decade, these little confections reminded me of them–only much, much healthier.  To me, these sweets taste like actual milk chocolate (not chocolate “candy”), mixed with coconut.”

Ingredients:

1 heaping Tbsp (20 ml) smooth natural almond butter
1 heaping Tbsp (20 ml) tahini (sesame paste)
2 level tsp (10 ml) carob powder (sift if lumpy)
pinch salt
2 tsp (10 ml) finely ground chia seeds (use 1 Tbsp/15 ml for the agave/maple syrup option, as they will be too soft otherwise)
8-10 drops stevia liquid (this is probably 3 packs of the solid stuff)
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract (optional)
heaping 1/4 cup (65-70 ml) unsweetened, dried shredded coconut
Tbsp (15 ml) hemp seeds (or hemp nuts), optional

In a food processor (I use my Mini-Prep; any small processor is recommended for this recipe), blend the almond butter, tahini, carob powder, salt and chia until you have  a smooth paste.  Add the stevia and vanilla, if using, and whir again to blend.  Add the coconut and hemp seeds and pulse until evenly distributed.  Scoop the mixture by teaspoonfuls and roll into balls.  Refrigerate (or freeze) 20 minutes or more to allow the mixture to firm up a bit.  (If you can’t wait to dig in, they’re still delicious right away, but they will be fairly soft).   Makes 4-5 balls.

coconutorb1

4) Coconut Shake

Young coconuts are delicious, hydrating, full of healthy fats, and they’re also a naturally sweet–yet not too sweet–food. As part of my ongoing attempt to re-create the culinary genius on display at Bonobos, I’ve created my own low-sugar version of their infamous coconut chai.

Ingredients:

Meat and juice of 1 thai coconut
Healthy sprinkle cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
Healthy sprinkle garam masala
1 packet Stevia

Throw it all in a blender and enjoy!

coconut-shake

5) Cinnamon Baked Sweet Potatoes

potatos-birds-eye

Yes, you heard me. One of the best low-sugar desserts is also one of the easiest. Cut a sweet potato into rounds, throw it in the oven at 400, bake until fork tender, and sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon and Stevia about ten minutes before you remove the rounds. Serve them along with your dinner, or enjoy them right after the meal. Yum!

potatoes-close

Or…

6) Sweet Potato Mash

This is an equally tasty, slightly more decadent way to eat sweet potatoes for dessert. It would also work nicely with butternut or acorn squash.

Ingredients:

1 sweet potato, skinned
Cinnamon and nutmeg
Stevia
Almond milk, organic butter, or water to thin

Steam the sweet potato. Throw it in a food processor with cinnamon and Stevia to taste. Begin pulsing until potato is broken down, then thin out the mixture with a touch of water, almond milk, or organic butter until it reaches a creamy consistency. Enjoy warm, with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

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7) Avo-Berry Pudding

pudding-from-top

This was inspired by my beloved chocomole, which is heavy on the dates (a candida no-no). It’s not quite as decadent, I admit, but it’s really pretty great, and it’s also full of fiber, healthy fat, and antioxidants. So eat up!

Ingredients:

1 ripe avocado
1 packet Stevia
½ cup blueberries

Throw it all in a food processor and pulse. Scrape the processor down and begin mixing again, drizzling in water until a smooth and pudding-like consistency is reached. Enjoy!

8 )Ani Phyo’s Almond Shake

I love raw smoothies as much as the next girl, but they’re often loaded with sugar. This is my take on Ani Phyo’s incredibly tasty Chocolate Mylk Shake, made with Stevia in place of dates. Enjoy it!

Ingredients:

1 cup almonds
1/2 cup ice
1/2 vanilla bean, or 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract, alcohol free
1 packet stevia
2 tablespoons cacao powder
2 tablespoons coconut oil, liquid
2 cups water (or as much as you like)

Place all ingredients in your high speed blender, and blend until smooth.

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I hope these delectable treats show you that staying away from sugar—for whatever reason you’re trying to stay away—doesn’t mean a life devoid of sweetness and pleasure. I also hope you’ll all keep in mind that craving sweet foods every now and then is natural, not a sin! If you’re trying to limit late night munching or dessert overdrive, I recommend the following tips:

1) Examine your craving. If you’re eager to gobble up dessert simply because you’re in the habit, take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you need something sweet, or if you’re just on autopilot. It’s also worth asking if you’re craving sweets because you feel entitled for some reason (“hey, I ate a healthy dinner! I’m allowed!”) or because you’re stressed.

If the answer is yes, then wait a few minutes. Drink some water. If you still want sweets, then have one of the recipes above, or something similarly sensible. And don’t feel bad! Clearly, you needed the dessert. And you ate something healthy, so you’ve got no reason to spend the rest of the night in remorse.

2) Sip ginger tea or water with a drop of peppermint oil. So often what we interpret as a “sweet craving” is really a desire for a different taste on our palates. So offer yourself that change of taste with teas or essential oils: they’ll give you a new, palate-cleansing taste without unnecessary food.

3) Keep busy. If you’re bored at night, you may be more drawn to sweets than you would otherwise. Read, write emails, stretch, or just walk around your apartment: these small activities will do wonders to replace the sugar urge.

4) Incorporate sweet foods into your dinner. This is a hugely helpful tip, and it’s often overlooked. We frequently fetishize sugar because the foods we eat don’t offer us anything sweet. So eat more carrots, root vegetables, sugar snap peas, and vegetable juices. They’ll give you the sweet flavors you’re craving without a lot of sugar—and with a host of vitamins and nutrients, too!

Most importantly: make peace with your cravings. If you beat yourself up about nighttime snacking, you’ll turn the habit into a self-fulfilling prophecy: each night you’ll try to resist, and each night you’ll give into the siren’s call. Instead, stay calm, and be assertive about the way you handle your cravings. If you’ve slowed down, taken a few breaths, and established that yes, you really do want something sweet, then go for it. Cravings often indicate that our bodies are crying out for something, and in this case, that something is a little sweetness. With the treats above, you don’t have to choose between doing what’s healthful for you, and giving your body what it asks for.

Have a great evening, everyone!

xo

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    74 Comments
  1. Great post here! Thanks for these recipes and not making me feel like a wacko because I’m pretty sure I’m addicted to sugar. Definitely need to give myself time after a meal to check in with myself and see if I REALLY need that sweet kick!

  2. Gena,

    I am a little confused.

    Your recipes are fantastic. Numerous ones are great for someone who was a raw vegan. My confusion is that some of them are steamed, cooked, etc which no longer makes them raw. Can you please claify this for me? I an confused because you have said that you are a raw vegan.

    Thanks,

    PJ

    • Actually, PJ, I said that I was a mostly raw vegan. If you read my “About” section, you’ll see that I state quite clearly that I eat a high portion of raw foods, but many cooked ones as well, and all vegan.

  3. thank you for posting that delicious coconut shake recipe. I’ll definitely try that soon.

    I’m the webmaster of http://www.blenderbenefits.com and we are actively looking for contributions to your Blender recipes section. I would love to build out a “raw” blender recipe section and would love to include some of your recipes. If you’d like to contribute your recipes, send me an email!

  4. […] I made with some of this yummy stuff. Well, I was SO pleased today when I found a whole page of Low-Sugar Treats on Gena’s blog. THANK YOU, THANK YOU GENA!! I think you have saved my life! I made Carob […]

  5. Hi, love this post!
    I’ve been reading about yeast problems and have a question. Does eliminating yeast foods such as bread and brewer’s yeast help or does it have nothing to do with yeast problems because the stomach acid kills the yeast in foods? (that is, if any of the yeast in foods are still active to begin with, I guess) Some nutritionist insist on this, but I don’t quite get it.

    Oh, a tip in cooking sweet potato / yams. Cook in low temp like 300 degrees. Sure it takes longer, but it will be naturally sweeter that you won’t need any added sugar. This is because there are enzymes in the sweet potato that converts carbs to sugar so we want to gently heat up the stuff so that the enzymes have a lot of time to work before they get stopped in high temp.

  6. Have done the avo-berry pudding twice now, left out the sweetener both times. Who needs it – it was wonderful with just the 2 fruits! This could be breakfast some morning. I’m thinking it also might be really good with whipped cream folded in . . .

    Also made the banana soft serve (from another post) last week, for the first time. Awesome stuff!

    Told a few folks about those two treats, and they seemed quite interested. Can’t wait to try some of these other recipes. BIG thanks for sharing recipes and info, Gena!

  7. YUM! I must try the pumpkin ice cream! I am a bit of a pumpkin addict 😉

    I am also addicted to raw chocolate pudding and dates stuffed with raw almond butter. I don’t think dates work with a candida cleanse though.

  8. What a fabulous post. Thanks for explaining candida…now I won’t feel stupid when I hear people talking about it. : )

  9. Gena ~
    This is a fantastic and incredibly useful post – thank you so much for sharing all this! I have printed and added to my kitchen file 🙂
    I had never before consciously thought to add sweet foods to my main course, but last night I added peas. It achieved the perfect result – I was completely satisfied.
    Have a great day,
    ~ Emily.

    • Oh, thanks Em: isn’t it amazing how sating the sweet tooth DURING dinner can stave off the sweet cravings AFTER? I think it’s a great tactic, if you, like me, love the sweet tastes (which isn’t a crime: after all, there are other tastes I don’t love, such as spicy foods or anything too pungent, with onion — we all have our preferences!!).

      Big hug.

  10. Nice round up, thanks. I love both sweet and savory, it all depends on my mood. But if I had to choose sides, I’d lean more toward savory. Now I’m hungary and must whip up something raw. Ani’s Almond Shake sound perfect right now.

  11. hey Gena thanks so much for this post. I made your cashew pate recipe from the last post and it was deliccccious! All of these desserts look wonderful as well.

    I’m curious about two things and I would be really grateful if you’d answer them for me!

    1) Do you personally limit your intake of sweeteners such as agave and dates? and if so, why?

    2) Why don’t you eat much fruit? (I forget where on your site you said you don’t eat much fruit, but I’m sure I read it somewhere!)

    Thanks so much.

  12. Great post! I am drawn to savory foods, not sweets.. but sometimes I just crave them… last night for dinner I made banana/carob/chia ice cream sweetened with stevia. I use KAL stevia powder.. it’s my favorite stevia.

    I make all my smoothies with stevia and replace at least half the sugar in all my baked good for my kids with stevia as well.

  13. Yum! I’m definitely a savory gal, but as I get older, I find myself liking sweets more and more. I love these healthy alternatives! Especially dark chocolate. I usually eat a small piece of it at my desk everyday.

  14. Hi Gena,

    Thanks (largely) to your blog, I ordered Nathalia Rose’s book and basically devoured it last weekend (Raw Food Detox Diet). I have a question about food combining that I’m hoping you’ll be able to answer, even though you don’t eat meat/cheese.

    I’m wondering two things – 1. can I combine goat cheese with starches? I want to have the Ak Mak crackers with goat cheese as a snack and I think she combines them in her detox quesadilla, but the chart makes it look like a no-no. 2. Can I combine meat (namely shrimp) with avocados (technically a starch, according to her?). I’m interested in having fajita shrimp salad and I need me some avocados to go with it!

    Thanks so much if you’re able to answer and for your help already!

    • Hi, Interested in Raw,

      Thanks for visiting!

      1) Definitely a no-no. Proteins (aka flesh) have to be eaten solo — not with anything else.

      2) Alas, if you honor food combining, this is a no-no too: you really should be eating flesh on its own. But you could substitute salsa, jicama, or some other kind of veggie instead!

      Keep reading 🙂

      Gena

  15. Gena

    Wonderful Post! I look forward to your new ones everyday. I am addicted to sweet potatoes so the mush is a must try. As far as food combining goes, do you think that little bit of blueberries with the avocado would be fine for dessert or would the fruit wreak a bit of havoc?

    This was so helpful. Thanks!

    Kathleen

    • Hey Kathleen! Love your blog, and so happy you love mine. And you’re in NYC! Very cool.

      Avocados combine pretty decently with fruits, actually: some food combiners say you can do it as much as you like. I would say you should combine avos with fruits only moderately. But you can get away with 1/2 cup berries, as in this recipe, or even some mango, and you can definitely slip 1/4 avocado in a fruit smoothie to no ill effect. Enjoy!

  16. what an AWESOME post! i love that ani’s chocolate mylk recipe… so good
    it’s so true- usually when i’m craving sweets it usually isn’t a craving for actual sweets and can easily be satisfied with something healthy
    i can’t wait to try the carob coconut sweeties- they look incredible!
    enjoy your day <3

    • Hey my dear! So glad you like the post. That mylk shake is such a winner. And yes, it’s so true that sweet cravings so often are born of other needs. Have a great day!

  17. thank you for this post gena! i just sat down to google, “what to do about sweet snack food cravings”–seriously! i haven’t commented before and i love your blog…lovely photos, accessible recipes. thank you for sharing your information and time!

    • Ha, happy the reminder helps, my dear! I plan on living a long time, so I think I’ll have plenty of opportunity for sweets 🙂

  18. So many great ideas here! thanks so much for sharing! I’ve been struggling with candida overgrowth for a few years (off and on). I’m excited to read your friend’s blog for more ACD recipes! One thing that has helped me a lot is drinking Kefir/probiotic milk.

  19. awesome post! I’m glad you mentioned incorporating sweet foods with dinner—when I add chopped dried fruit to my dinner salad it helps a lot with my sweet cravings!

  20. Great post, Gena. Like you, I have a major sweet tooth and trying to be more natural so dessert for past two nights has been dates with soy butter and chocolate. Of course I will still be eating cake, my favourite dessert, but trying to eat more natural foods.

    Great blog. 🙂 I’m trying to incorporate more raw foods in my life so made an attempt to eat a salad at lunch today before my cooked food.

    • So glad you love the blog and the post! I hope it gives you some easy ideas for more raw foods — AND for indulging your sweet tooth without feeling guilty!

  21. Also, I used to love dark chocolate but then one day it made me nauseous and I haven’t been able to eat it since. I always get nauseous if I even have a little taste, something about the bitterness I think? It is sad…

  22. Sweet potato mush might be the most beautiful sound I could ever hear, as I LOVE sweet potato (it is all I want at Thanksgiving!) and even more, I love anything with the consistency of mush, particularly dessert. Mmmmm….

    • Dori,

      I am a mush whore too. I’ve been living off of guacamole during this mini heatwave (recipe TK!).

      SO sad about chocolate. It could be the bitterness, or the caffeine?

      xo

      • I don’t think it is the caffeine because coffee and regular tea doesn’t bother me. I think it is the bitterness because at the same time the same thing began happening with caffeine-free green tea. I think it must have to be bitter related. 🙁

  23. Hi Gena,

    Great tips! I fall in between. I use to be a sweets person and now I have gone over to the salty savory side. I can go all week without sweets but once Saturday comes I want a little something! Thanks for all the great recipes. I use Stevia all the time, I love it!

  24. Lovely post, you always inspire me to be more mindful in the kitchen!

    Regarding stevia, my husband and I cannot tolerate the taste. We find that it leaves a super-sweet aftertaste, much like artificial sweeteners. I have talked to some other people who have this issue too. To me, it tastes falsely sweet, like it is trying to fool my taste buds, much like diet soda (gag). Does it take getting used to?

    Thank you, Gena!

    • CinnamonQuill,

      I am so glad you find my recipes mindful and inspiring! And I love your blog — I am so glad you like mine, too.

      That taste, alas, is the Stevia tradeoff. I have grown accustomed to it, and I think most people can, but if you hate it, then you might want to check out NuNaturals Stevia. They’re a bit less pure than other brands, but it’s still a better alternative to lots of sugar or to Splenda, and it doesn’t quite have the bitter aftertaste that some people find Stevia leaves them with.

      I hope this helps!

  25. I really love this post. I have a big sweet tooth and I like to look for natural sources to eat rather than processed sugars.

    I will have to try that Pumpkin Soft Serve, how delicious!

    • Hey Shel. I thought of you with the pumpkin ice cream, actually! I know you love your root veggies like I do 🙂

  26. so much info! what a great collection.
    the pumpking dessert looks great . i never saw something like this and i mean the Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream.

    thanks!

  27. That pumpkin pie dessert looks amazing. I’ve recently started appreciating the wonders of dark chocolate.

    I know this isn’t really related, but I thought truvia was made from stevia. Is it just more processed or something and that’s why it’s an imposter?

    • Hey Heaths!

      Dark chocolate is incredible. I used to love milk chocolate, too, but now that I’m used to dark it’s all I ever crave.

      Leave it to me to use big hyperbole on the blog 🙂 — Truvia IS Stevia, but it uses erythritol (a sugar alcohol extract, which isn’t great for candida sufferers) and “natural flavors” (whatever those are) to enhance it. In fairness, many other Stevia brands (NuNaturals, for example), also use various alcohols, which is why I stick with the purer brands (SweetLeaf sometimes adds fiber, but is good; the Stevita brand makes one called “simply Stevia” that’s awesome).

      NYC residents: you can also buy Stevia leaf at the farmer’s market at Union Square and boil it! You end up with a sweet liquid that you can use in coffee or tea.

  28. Wow! All of these treats sound amazing! I’ll have to try that coconut shake, assuming I can ever master opening a coconut. 🙂 I also love the idea of freezing the soup and making ice cream!

  29. Coconut shake and almond shake sound amazing too…all of them do…what a great round-up!

  30. Gena,

    I love this post – the recipes AND the tips and insights at the end. I especially love the last few paragraphs, regarding making peace with our cravings, establishing healthy responses, and realizing that neither response is the end of the world. “Neither of these scenarios is a failure, and neither is a superhuman triumph. ” Wow, perfectly stated. I am keeping this in mind as I move ahead…

    I have been loving baked root veggie desserts recently (it’s amazing how far a little stevia and cinnemon will get you), and I love the idea of pumpkin pie ice cream! What a great idea! It’s so simple and wholesome, yet seems like a flavor you’d find at some super-chic restaurant or gourmet ice cream parlor. An excellent idea for the upcoming warm weather. I know many who will love this recipe. (Including me). Cheers! Thanks, and xo.

    • Hey gorgeous! Aren’t baked roots a great dessert? And the ice cream is the BEST — I didn’t think I could ever like anything more than the soup itself, but this sort of wins. Thanks for the awesome comments — love seeing you here 🙂

      Oh — and the coconut and almond shakes are winners, too. I love anything with garam masala in it! xox

  31. Terrific post! I am very concerned about the possibility that many people have an overgrowth of candida due to sugar and acid based foods. I have tried to warn my family – I myself have cut back on the sugars and have eliminated alcohol entirely. I thank you for showing all of these sweet treats that are not so bad for us!

    • Thanks, Vegan Woman! I do think that yeast fears CAN be exaggerated, but as I said, I’ve also seen how real and prevalent they can be. It’s great to cut back on sugar, regardless: so many of us eat more than we think we do!

  32. Wow, Gena, what a fabulous post (and thanks for the shout-out!) I am definitely going to try that pumpkin soft serve! And the coconut shake sounds fantastic, too. You’ve got so much wonderful information here–I will be trying those ideas to deal with cravings, for sure. And I had no idea that Truvia isn’t actually stevia! Now I’m wondering what it IS–??

    • Stevia with unnecessary alcohol added — ie, not great for candida!

      I’m so happy you liked the post!! You were my inspiration. I’m so grateful 🙂