Despite my passion for desserts, every so often I like to give my body a break from sugars. And because I don’t like to do things by halves, that means all sugars: refined sugars of course; natural sugars like maple syrup, rice syrup, agave nectar, concentrated fruit juice; all dried and fresh fruit; stuff that converts into sugar in your body like pasta, bread, rice, potatoes; and all alcohol.
It’s a healthy way to live but, I must admit, I do find it difficult. And that’s why I invent ways to bring sweetness into my life without breaking the rules of the sugar-free diet.
Instead of eating something that is admittedly yummy but has little or no nutritional value, and can be positively harmful to our health (sugar), sugar substitutes such as nuts, seeds and some sweeteners are actually superfoods as well as being super-tasty. They are not just a neutral substitute, they actually have huge health advantages over the original.
Here are my top tips for keeping sweet and sugar-free.
Keep chocolate in your diet. With chocolate, everything will be alright. Cocoa, raw cacao, carob powder, even carob syrup – all these are sugar-free and contain lots of vitamins and minerals. Plus they make you feel loved. Sugar-free chocolate bars are a lifesaver.
Make friends with safe sweeteners. Read up on different sweeteners and decide what works for you. I avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, which have been linked with health risks (such as an increased incidence of stomach cancer). I’m happiest with stevia, which is not an artificial sweetener, but an extract from a herb which is 200–300 times sweeter than sugar. It has a bit of an aftertaste but you get used to it. Xylitol makes me happy too. Made from corn or birch fibre, it is a sugar alcohol which tastes sweet but does not behave like sugar in your body. It’s even great for your teeth, helping to prevent tooth decay. Xylitol works like normal sugar, it is granulated, about the same sweetness as sugar so can be substituted spoon for spoon. I use it a lot in desserts, dissolved in an equal quantity of warm water to replace syrups. Erythritol is another sugar alcohol, often used in sugar-free chocolate bars. Although highly refined, xylitol and erythritol seem to be safe sweeteners. Just don’t eat kilos of the stuff, as this can cause diarrhoea!
Love your nuts. Almond milk, cashew cream, walnut or pecan pie bases, ice cream, mousse, pie filling… Chopped, ground, blended, soaked, dehydrated, roasted or salted, nuts are your best friend when avoiding sugar and other carbs. Great protein source for vegans, high in unsaturated fat which will help you to feel full, and with a range of vitamins and minerals to keep you shiny and happy.
Go for gloop. Stuff that thickens without adding starch or sugar is very helpful. I’m enjoying using soaked chia seeds in smoothies and creams. In a powerful blender like a Vitamix, the seeds disappear completely and give a creamy, smooth consistency. Plus loads of protein, vitamins and minerals. Other options include avocado, agar, psyllium husk, soy lecithin and Irish moss.
Keep it simple. Anything complicated is bound to include some sugar or starch. Indian or Asian restaurants are good bets. Ask for stir-fried veggies with tofu, miso soups, vegetable curries, dahl. Make sure to ask them not to add sugar or sweetened pastes. On the go. Hummus with carrot, capsicum (bell peppers), cucumber. Bags of salted nuts. Sugar-free chocolate bars. Vegetable chips.