In the latest instalment of her guest blog, How To Eat (when you can't eat anything at all), special diets blogger Victoria Young shares how she gave up refined sugar AND stuck at it. Plus, she shares a sugar free sticky toffee cake recipe that's so good you won't feel like you're missing out...
I think it's fair to say that I used to be a bit of a sugar addict. That's the thing about sugar - the more you have, the more you want, and even then it doesn't feel like enough.
I used to consider a meal incomplete without a square - or 5 - of Green & Black's chocolate. A Kit Kat-less tea break at my desk was unthinkable. And I honestly don't think I was capable of turning down cake in any form, at any time. And that's just 'obvious' sugar. Before I started actually reading food labels, I had no idea the degree to which sugar lurks in the most innocuous items, from mayonnaise to pesto, to chorizo, pizza, tomato sauce and supposedly healthy granolas and cereals. And I used to eat a lot of all that stuff.
When I first started reading about the Specific Carboydrate Diet, I was genuinely aghast to hear the extremely long list of things that I would have to give up in my bid to cure colitis through diet alone. Carbs in general were a huge and difficult sacrifice. But sugar? I honestly wondered if I could do it.
Guess what though? Seven years later, and I haven't so much as touched a piece of chocolate; the thing I most thought I could not live without. And, although there are lots of things that I miss, refined sugar isn't really one of them.
I think the main reason for my success - and this is really important - is that I don't feel deprived, or that I am missing out.
I know some puritans ban fruit in a bid to give up sugar, but the absolute saving grace for me has been that although I can't eat refined sugar in any form at all, I can eat fruit, dried fruit and honey. A banana or an orange or a fruit salad is a great way to silence cravings with an instant sugar fix. Dried fruit is even better because the sugar is more concentrated. Dates, in particular, are almost like eating chocolate - just try one after a meal and you'll see what I mean. They are also a great substitute for sugar in some recipes; honey is even better.
Obviously, my diet is fairly extreme and I am following it to treat a specific condition. But the fact is, we could probably all do with cutting down on refined sugar a bit. Not only does it have no nutritional benefit at all, but too much sugar can make your body resistant to the hormone insulin, which can leads to obesity and also, according to recent research, makes you more susceptible to cancer.
If you want to make a change, the first step, which changes everything, is to tune into hidden sugar. Start reading food labels and if sugar is one of the ingredients, think about alternatives: making your own pesto and mayonnaise, for example, could not be simpler if you have a food processor. I make both on a weekly basis and it is the work of just moments.
That doesn't address the issue of cravings though; those dreadful afternoon moments of desire that weaken your resolve to stay healthy! One way of dealing with them is to try to keep your blood sugar levels even by not letting yourself get too hungry (when you are more likely to make bad choices). I always have a banana and a bag of Brazil nuts or some almonds in my bag as five or six of those work wonders when it comes to staving off hunger.
Sometimes, though, only cake will do. When I first started my diet, the moment that I knew it was all going to be alright was when I started making date cakes using ground almonds and sweetened with both Medjool dates and honey. They were seriously good but were eclipsed when I discovered nut butter cakes, which I have blogged about before. So for ages, I didn't make them.
But my love of the date cake was reawakened when I read the Helmsley and Helmsley recipe for sticky toffee. The cake part is is very similar to the cakes I used to make, but doesn't use honey (and nor does it need to). But it's ramped up to off-the-scale levels of deliciousness and indulgence with the introduction of a decadent toffee-like sauce made with dates and butter. My recipe is my own take on theirs, and I defy anyone to taste it and say it's not as good as the real deal. I know this to be the case because my 5-year-old son, who is deeply suspicious of all vegetables and fruits and anything even vaguely healthy, including dates, scoffed a plateful yesterday in about 30 seconds flat.
Psst! For more healthy eating inspiration, take a look at all our healthy recipes.
Sugar Free Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
For the cake:
250g Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
200ml boiling water
100g soft butter
250g ground almonds
1¼tsp baking soda
3 medium eggs, beaten
For the sauce:
300-400ml boiling water
1. Grease a ceramic baking dish 18cm x 25cm, or line with greaseproof paper. Soak all the dates (in separate dishes for the sauce and cake) in hot water (200ml for the cake dates and 300-400ml water for the sauce sates) and leave to soften for 10 minutes.
2. Place the cake dates and their liquid into a food processor with the butter, ground almonds and baking soda and process until smooth, but stop mixing before the dates are completely smooth as they add texture. Add the eggs and mix until creamy then pour into the dish and cook at 170C, gas 3 for 35 minutes. Then cover the top with parchment paper and cook for a further 15-20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, put the dates and butter in your food processor and blitz together, slowly adding the water they were soaking in until the sauce is smooth and the consistency you like.
4. When the cake is cooked, serve with the sauce and prepare to experience a little piece of heaven.
I added a dollop of homemade yoghurt, the sourness of which was a delicious contrast, but you could also use crème fraiche.