Archives for posts with tag: sugar-free

This post is a bit unusual for me. A few months ago I bumped into Isabel, a lady who has set up a family business in her home, making and selling chocolate. This isn’t just any old chocolate: this is home-made, nutritious, delicious chocolate and it is made just up the road from me near Bicester in Oxfordshire.

As you will know already if you’ve read some of my previous posts, I have a bit of a sweet tooth but I know what refined, processed sugar can do to the body so I’m always on the lookout for clean eating treats and recipes that use natural, non-processed and health boosting ingredients. I was so excited to meet Isabel and to discover that someone local to me shared the same ideals and values as I did and had turned it into a business. I rushed out to buy a bar of her chocolate and I can confirm it is delicious.

I decided I had to interview Isabel and share her story with you all. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to run out and buy Isabel’s chocolate as soon as you’ve finished reading this…which is quite lucky really because we all know chocolate is good for us. See my previous post here if you don’t believe me!

So here it is, an interview with Isabel, owner and creator of The Chicken Shed.

Tell me a bit about The Chicken Shed. What do you do and what makes your chocolate special?

The Chicken Shed is Enrico (the man who makes the chocolate), me (I look after the website, the look and feel of our products and most of our customer contact), Ella (10 – she’s a great sales lady!), and Maya (7, fellow taster with Ella). We involve the children in most aspects, from testing new flavours to how our packaging looks, and they help us get ready for markets.

We make chocolate bars in 8 flavours at the moment (but more to come!), hot chocolate, and Belgian chocolates exclusively for Deddington Farmers’ Market as well as seasonal chocolate items. Our chocolate is organic, dairy-free and is made with raw forest honey rather than refined sugar. We also work the chocolate at lower temperatures than normal so as to ensure that we don’t “cook away” all the nutrients. Technically you’d class it as raw.

Tell me about the ingredients. What’s healthy and good about them?

All our chocolate is organic. It’s made with raw honey rather than refined sugar, so the GI is much lower, plus it boosts your enzyme and antioxidant levels. We deliberately keep the temperatures low when making our chocolate so that the nutrients stay intact. We’re careful about the ingredients we choose – if it’s over-processed, or has little or no nutritional value, it doesn’t make it in.  For example, we could have made our hot chocolate with conventional cornflour as a thickener, but we opted for purple cornflour instead. Purple cornflour contains an antioxidant called anthocyanin which a study by the State University of Ohio has shown to have amazing cancer busting properties: during the study, researchers found that anthocyanins extracted from purple corn killed 20 percent of in vitro cancer cells, while leaving surrounding tissue relatively unharmed.

One of your major selling points is that your chocolate is sugar-free. Why is this so important to you?

Refined sugar is just full of empty calories. We all know it doesn’t do your body any good, in fact there is research that suggests it feeds cancer cells. Why eat what the media are calling “poison” when there are healthy alternatives out there? We didn’t want our chocolate to taste like an alternative though! We wanted it to taste amazing, so you still feel like you’re treating yourself, but you’re actually doing yourself some good (as part of a balanced diet of course).

Have you always been interested in health and nutrition?

To some extent, yes. I became vegetarian when I was 18 (for ethical rather than health reasons)  – I was still living at home at the time – and my Mum was really against the idea because she was worried I wouldn’t get the right nutrients in my diet. It made me focus more on having a balanced diet. Having children increased that focus. They’re vegetarian too, and I wanted to make sure that, without meat and fish in their diets, they would grow up healthy.

Then, about 3 years ago, I became friends with Ellie Bedford who is now a raw food nutritionist. She introduced us to the concept of baking and cooking without refined sugar and white flour. We did our own research on the health issues linked to those two ingredients, and – now armed with healthy alternatives – decided to ditch sugar and white flour (and co-wrote the healthy desserts book with her).

Aside from avoiding refined sugar, what other healthy foods and habits do you try to incorporate into your life?

We don’t use white flour – we tend to use spelt a lot as an alternative. Our overall philosophy is really a common sense one – there are so many different diets out there and they contradict each other – it’s very confusing!

We just trust that nature has things well designed so we eat seasonal foods when we can, get some variety, and we try to not “mess” with food, because a lot of the time, that means you end up taking away a lot of the nutrients. For example, the process of refining wheat into white flour strips away more than half of wheat’s B vitamins, 90 percent of the vitamin E, and virtually all of the fibre.

What’s your favourite meal?

Enrico’s Italian, so we eat a fair amount of Italian food, so I would go for homemade pizza or pasta (made with spelt flour).

What’s your favourite snack?

Our chocolate! Yogurt with fruit and nuts, spirulina Bounce balls, and raw chocolate brownies.

What’s your favourite Chicken Shed flavour/product?

Personally, I think cardamom, but it really depends on my mood. Obviously I like them all, or they wouldn’t have passed our tasting tests 🙂  The children love vanilla, liquorice, and Serious (73%), and Enrico would say liquorice, but they’re all nice!

Where can people find you and buy your chocolate? 

We’re online on www.thechickenshed.eu, on Etsy and Notonthehighstreet, and are stocked locally at the Organic Deli in Oxford (www.oxfordorganic.co.uk), the Natural Health Store in Banbury, Uhuru in Oxford, the Duck’s Pantry in Hardwick and the Beanbag in Witney. The Varsity Club in Oxford sells our little chocolate eggs. We’re also regulars at Deddington Farmers’ Market and North Parade Market.

What is the future like for The Chicken Shed?

Well, we have a new flavour about to hit the market: Honey and Bee Pollen, which is exciting. We’re looking to expand, so hopefully more stockists. We’ve only been going for about half a year and in that time have changed the look of our packaging and almost doubled our range. Although we’re ambitious to grow, I’m hoping to get more balance in our lives as we do that.  Not quite sure how yet, but I’m working on it!

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This one’s for my little sister, Ruth. For weeks we’ve been trying to come up with a sugar-free, syrup-free flapjack recipe that actually holds together and doesn’t just crumble the minute you pick it up.

We’ve tried out a few recipes using honey and whilst some of them have been very successful – like this delicious version by my friend, Sarah – I’ve wanted to go that little bit further and find a recipe that’s honey-free as well. Honey can be really good for you in so many ways, but it’s still a form of sugar and once I get a taste of it I want more and more and more….

So, I’ve come up with a very simple flapjack recipe that is lovely as a snack or as a quick breakfast when you’re pushed for time and, like many of my recipes, it makes a perfect snack for baby Freya too.

You may remember the cheesy flapjack recipe I posted a week or so ago. This recipe is a sweet version of that.

Ingredients:

100g (4 oz) oats

2 large cooking apple, grated

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tbsp melted butter or coconut oil

About 10 prunes, chopped (the softer the prunes, the better)

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until well mixed. Press into a greased tin so the mixture is about 1″ thick. Bake for around 20 mins until golden on top, remove from oven. Cool slightly before cutting into pieces (makes 14-16 fingers).

You could also experiment by adding other dried fruit and nuts of your choice. It doesn’t matter how much you add as long as you make sure the mixture is moist and sticky when it goes into the oven. I’d suggest adding more apple if you’re using loads of nuts because you don’t want the flapjack becoming too dry once baked.

Let me know how you get on.

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Good morning, everyone. I have so many food- and exercise-related things I want to share with you, but I’ve set myself a goal of finishing the synopsis for my children’s novel this week so I’m trying not to get too distracted by other writing, i.e. this blog!

For now, here’s a very quick, very easy sugar-free biscuit recipe.

Ingredients:

175g wholemeal spelt flour or gluten-free flour (make sure it doesn’t have soya in it)

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp mixed spice

100g honey

100g coconut oil or sunflower oil

3 handfuls of chopped walnuts

3 handfuls of cocoa nibs

How to make them:

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.

If you’re using coconut oil, melt it in a pan and then leave it to cool slightly. Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a bowl. Add the nuts and cocoa nibs. Pour in the sunflower oil or coconut oil and add the honey. Mix it all together with a wooden spoon until well mixed.

Place balls of the mixture onto a greased baking tray and flatten slightly. Bake for 8-12 minutes.

Easy!

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I have some good news. Chocolate is good for you. Hurrah!

This doesn’t mean you can go to the shop, stock up on all your favourite chocolate bars and munch your way through them. Chocolate itself (cocoa) is good for you, but what’s added to it is generally bad: refined sugar, preservatives, emulsifiers, flavourings, vegetable fat, whey powder…etc. etc. All of these ingredients plus cocoa might make something that tastes nice, but they don’t do you any favours.

How to enjoy chocolate the healthy way:

You can enjoy chocolate and feel good about it if you find the right stuff. The higher the cocoa content the better because cocoa is packed with antioxidants. It is also high in magnesium: headaches, fatigue, low energy, disrupted sleep, PMS and even cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) are all symptoms of magnesium deficiency. These symptoms might be all too familiar, especially if you’re a woman. Hormones have an impact on levels of magnesium in your body so your magnesium levels might drop around the time of your menstruation every month, which is why you start craving chocolate.

So I think we’re all agreed: we want chocolate; we need chocolate; chocolate is good for us. But how can we get our antioxidants and magnesium without loading sugar, additives and unhealthy fats down us? Here are a few ideas:

  • Only eat dark chocolate and look for the stuff that’s 70% cocoa solids or higher;
  • Check the ingredients. There will still sugar added to most chocolate you buy but the less sugar and fewer ingredients, the better;
  • Cook with or flavour your food with pure, unsweetened cocoa powder;
  • Check these cocoa wafers out from one of my favourite websites: www.changinghabits.com.au.

And now for my top tip of the day: buy yourself some cocoa nibs.

If you want to get all the benefits of chocolate without any sugar at all, you need to get cocoa nibs. I’ve recently discovered them and I think I’m addicted.

Cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks and broken into smaller pieces. For an excellent explanation of all the health benefits of eating cocoa nibs (and there are a lot more than I’ve touched on here), see here.

I’ve only just begun to experiment with cocoa nibs, but here are a few ways to enjoy them:

  • Stir them into your porridge for added crunch;
  • Yogurt, blueberries and cocoa nibs with a bit of organic honey makes an amazing pudding;
  • Bake with them. I haven’t done this yet, but I’ve seen some recipes where you can use cocoa nibs instead of/alongside chocolate chips;
  • Mix cocoa nibs with nuts and sultanas for a healthy snack to pick at throughout the day. The cocoa nibs themselves can be quite bitter when eaten on their own, but as soon as you add the sweetness of a sultana they’re delicious.
  • Add them to ice-cream. OK, so this is a bit of a naughty one but I only did it once and it was a real treat. It inspired me to find some clean eating ice-cream recipes like this one.

Happy chocolate eating, gang. x

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Here’s a delicious recipe to brighten your weekend, courtesy of my friend Jemma Parker. Be warned, it’s a bit too nice!

Ingredients:

100g (4 oz) oats
100g (4 oz) cheese, grated
1 carrot, grated
1 apple, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp melted butter or coconut oil
Pinch of black pepper

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl until well mixed. Press into a greased tin so the mixture is about 1″ thick. Bake for around 20 mins until golden on top, remove from oven. Cool slightly before cutting into pieces (makes 14-16 fingers).

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Good morning. Happy Valentine’s Day for yesterday!

How did it go? If you were lucky enough to be taken out for dinner last night, did you manage to resist pudding? Don’t worry if not; just count that as your cheat day and treat yourself to a lovely, sugar-free weekend.

We’re nearly at the half way mark and you might be starting to struggle without your normal quick energy fix: you might be feeling tired and grumpy after a long week of work; you might also be suffering from headaches or feel ill and as if you’re going down with something. I know it’s not very pleasant but it’s normal to get withdrawal symptoms like this: sugar is a drug after all. Just remind yourself why you’re doing this and think how good you’ll feel if you manage to resist those sugar-monster urges.

Now that’s enough about sugar! It’s time to stop focussing on what we’re ‘not allowed’ and start looking forward to some really delicious meals for the weekend. If you’re missing pasta, why not try cooking a dish with Spaghetti squash (Cucurbita squash). Bake it in the oven and then scoop the spaghetti-like flesh out and cook with it. I found a fantastic recipe idea here on one of my favourite new blogs, www.ourlifeinfood.com. Check it out for inspiration.

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what we’re not allwingIf you are feeling a bit down in the dumps and need a treat, here’s a delicious snack recipe courtesy of my frined Jemma Parker:

Very moreish cheesy flapjack
I’ve found a delicious meal idea that might just cheer you up, especially if you’re missing your pasta. This recipe uses Spaghetti squash (Cucurbita squash) as a replacement for pasta

If anyone out there is doing The Sugar-Free Challenge with me, how have days 1 and 2 been? Have you craved anything in particular, have you broken any of the rules you set down for yourself?

If you’re anything like me, this isn’t the first time you’ve tried to change your diet for the better. I’m constantly striving to be healthier and fitter. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes my willpower buckles and I let myself down, which is never a nice feeling. However, recently I’ve come to realise that if I monitor myself as I go along, understand where I might be going wrong and then adapt the diet slightly, I won’t end up going crazy and eating everything in sight. This isn’t cheating; it’s just identifying what works for me.

On this latest sugar-free challenge I had promised myself a slice of soda bread with honey every other day. Today, day 2, was ‘soda bread and honey day’, but guess what? I didn’t just stop at one slice: I had a few slices and then I started getting cravings for all sorts of other sugary carbs. You’ll be glad to hear I didn’t give in to these cravings, but it made me realise that if I’m going to succeed on this 14 day plan (and beyond) I’ll have to completely cut out the soda bread and honey. If I don’t start it, I’m fine but once I start there’s no way I can just stop at one slice.

I guess what I’m trying to say is be kind to yourself. Don’t instantly think you’ve failed just because you slipped up once. Learn from it, adapt and keep on going until you get the results you want.

I’d love to hear from anyone who’s taken up the challenge so please get in touch.

Oh, and Happy Pancake Day! I hope you’re all enjoying your sugar-free pancakes. 😉

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In some of my recipes, I have been using alternatives to refined sugar such as fruit and dates. I have a very sweet tooth and I love to bake but I am also aware of what refined sugar can do to the body, so I’m determined to find healthier alternatives that still taste good. I ordered some coconut sugar last week, which has just arrived and I’m excited about trying it out. I’m going to have to wait a while to use it though because I’m on day 1 of my 2-week sugar-free challenge. You can join me and do the challenge yourself: for more information, see The Sugar-Free Challenge page.

If you have any of the following symptoms, it could be that sugar is the culprit:

  • Aching joints
  • Permanently blocked sinuses (you know that feeling when you think you’re going down with a cold, but it never quite happens?)
  • Always tired
  • Lethargic
  • Headaches
  • Itchy skin
  • Dry skin
  • Thrush
  • Bad digestion
  • Fuzzy head
  • Forgetful
  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Irritable
  • Prone to mood swings

So, why is refined sugar so bad for us?

There is so much information out there about how sugar damages your health, so I’m going to stick to the basics and leave it you to find out the specifics if you want to. Let’s start off with the obvious.

Sugar is quite bad for you because

  • It leads to tooth decay;
  • It is high in calories and completely lacking in nutrients, which leads to weight gain and malnutrition.

Ok, you probably already knew those 2, but that’s just the start.

Sugar is terrible for you because

  • It supresses the immune system;
  • It promotes inflammation;
  • It speeds up the ageing process;
  • It raises insulin levels. In the short term, this means sudden energy slumps and food cravings. In the long term, this can lead to diabetes;
  • It robs the body of B vitamins, which are basically needed to keep your nervous system, muscles and tissues healthy and functioning. See here for more information.

For more information on the list above, there’s a great article here at www.nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com.

For a truly terrifying list of how sugar damages your health, see 141 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health at www.nancyappleton.com.

Now for the worst part:

The problem with sugar is that it’s just too tasty. No matter how much we want to hate the stuff, it’s very difficult to give up and that’s because sugar is a drug; it is addictive. There is an amazing lecture about this on YouTube called Sugar: The Bitter Truth by Prof. Robert Lustig, which I really recommend you watch if you are at all interested in the subject. Be warned, it’s over an hour long though!

What are the alternatives?

It’s important to remember that alternatives to refined sugar are still high in calories and will still raise insulin levels, so we shouldn’t go crazy and eat loads of them. However, it’s nice to have a sweet treat here and there and the alternatives in the list below contain more vitamins and minerals than refined sugar, meaning they nourish our bodies when we eat them rather than stripping the nutrients from us.

  • Fruit
  • Dates
  • Rapadura sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup

Alternatives to avoid:

In my opinion, sweeteners are even worse than refined sugar and should be avoided at all costs. But that’s a huge subject in itself, so I won’t go into it now.

By now you’re probably beginning to hate me a little for making you feel bad about eating sugar, but please don’t!  I wish I could eat lots of sugar too. As I said in my very first post, “I love food…especially cake. It makes me happy”  and I like nothing more than enjoying yummy food with family and friends. Emotional health is just as important as physical health so I’ve had to find a balance that is reasonable and sustainable: I try to eat healthily most of the time, if I have treats at home I try to use the healthier alternatives, but I’m not going to beat myself up about the odd indulgent meal at a friend’s house or a delicious, sugar-laden pudding at a restaurant. Life is for living and enjoying after all!

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This is the easiest recipe ever. It took me 5 minutes to make and then 30 minutes in the oven. There are other more exciting versions of this recipe all over the internet so if you fancy being a bit adventurous, have a look around, but this is a good one to make when you have nothing but the basics in the house.

Ingredients:

350g (12 oz) organic wholemeal spelt flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

½ pint milk (either fresh or slightly gone off)

Juice of ½ a lemon

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

If you’re using gone off milk, you don’t need the lemon. If you’re using fresh milk, add the lemon juice to make it curdle. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl, add the salt and mix it all together. Make a well in the middle and add the milk. Quickly mix it all together and knead it briefly. Place it on a greased and floured baking tray and cook for 30 minutes.

To test whether or not it’s cooked, turn the loaf upside down and tap it on the bottom. If it makes a hollow sound, it’s done. Cool it on a wire rack.

Why I love it:

I love making my own soda bread because it’s quick and easy, because I know exactly what’s in it and because, unlike normal bread, it isn’t made with yeast.

So what’s the problem with yeast?

We all have a certain amount of yeast in our digestive systems but when we eat too much processed food, refined sugar and bread this yeast (Candida albicans) can get out of control and cause us all sorts of health problems such as digestive problems, bloating, aching joints, fatigue, headaches and thrush to name just a few. Taking a course of antibiotics can also cause an overgrowth of Candida albicans.

Doctors will often deny any link between yeast overgrowth and health problems but interestingly, patients with certain chronic ailments such as chronic fatigue syndrome are often successfully treated by cutting yeast out of their diet. It’s worth doing your own research into this but I certainly find I feel better if I cut yeast and sugar out of my diet: I feel less lethargic and sluggish and my digestive system feels a lot healthier.

If you want to find out more, here are some interesting articles to start you off:

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These chewy fruit biscuits are brilliant when you want a little something sweet, but not too naughty. They make excellent finger food for babies too.

A couple of months ago I left my daughter Freya in the sports centre crèche whilst I went into the gym. When I went to collect her, I was told she had been given a biscuit. I tried not to react too strongly, but I think they could tell I was a little put out. They quickly assured me the biscuits were gluten-free and dairy-free and were perfectly fine to give to any 6 month old baby. They didn’t mention whether or not the biscuits were sugar-free or even salt-free, so I asked to see the packet.

I can’t remember the exact make of biscuit, but the list of ingredients looked something like this:

Maize Starch, Sugar, Soya Flour, Water, Palm Oil, Sugar Syrup, Salt, Flavourings, Raising Agent: Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate. 

Hmm. There are so many things that bother me about this list of ingredients and I’ll talk about them in future posts, but for now let’s just say I wouldn’t be happy putting these ingredients into my own body, let alone feeding them to a baby.

Freya was booked into the crèche again the very next day so I quickly raced home to come up with an alternative biscuit-type snack to send with her the next day.

I found this recipe. Freya loves them and I quite like them too! No processed food, flour or sugar: just good clean banana and oats. I shared the recipe with a friend who added a couple of chopped prunes to the mix, which made them even tastier. Since then, I’ve tried replacing the banana with mango. The biscuits come out a little bit soggier, but they still hold together and I absolutely love them. Oh, and so does Freya, of course…when I remember to leave any for her!

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