Cutting back on carbs and quitting sugar should be as simple as emptying the kitchen of biscuits and cakes, and saying ‘no’ to that muffin with your morning coffee.
But unless you have incredibly steely willpower, there’s every chance you will find yourself succumbing at some point to the charms of these sweet treats.
All this week in the Daily Mail we are serialising a fascinating new book by Karen Thomson, great-granddaughter of pioneering heart transplant surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard.
In it, she lays out a foolproof plan for lowering your intake of carbohydrates and quitting sugar for ever – leaving you slimmer and feeling fabulous for summer.
Cutting back on carbs and quitting sugar should be as simple as emptying the kitchen of biscuits and cakes, and saying ‘no’ to that muffin with your morning coffee
You’ll be amazed at the effect her healthy eating revolution can have on your health, your mood and your looks.
On Monday, we explained how the low-carb, healthy-fat (LCHF) diet works and gave tips for your first week’s meal plan.
Yesterday, we showed how a few simple tweaks, and super-quick recipes, can help you eat healthily at every meal.
Today, we are able to reassure even those with a sweet tooth.
You CAN kick your cravings with a few simple tricks and tips. And we’ll give inspirational recipes for healthy desserts, cakes and biscuits that are actually good for you.
RAW CHOCOLATE BALL POPS
70g sunflower seeds
120g nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamias)
2 tbsp chia seeds or flax seeds (linseeds)
60g almond butter
25g unsweetened desiccated coconut, plus extra for rolling
2½ tbsp raw cacao powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt
Blitz seeds and nuts in a blender.
Transfer to a bowl and add almond butter, coconut, cacao powder, cinnamon and salt. Combine well.
Add a drizzle of water if the mixture is too stiff. Roll into 8 walnut-sized balls, then roll them in the extra coconut and chia seeds.
Use narrow straws to make ‘pops’.
FIRST, FACE UP TO FACTS
We all know sugar is bad for us.
Completely devoid of nutrients and high in calories, it is causing our health to decline and our waistlines to expand.
But the buzz of pleasure given by hormones released after something sweet melts on your tongue makes sugar addictive and difficult to quit.
The Low-Carb, Healthy Fat diet is designed to keep carbohydrate intake low — between 50g and 12 0g per day, depending on how active you are and how quickly you want to lose weight.
Weight loss mode (total 50g carbs): Three meals per day and up to two snacks (only if you’re hungry). Each meal should contain protein (¼ of the plate), nonstarchy salad and vegetables (½ your plate) and the remaining ¼ should be healthy fats. In addition, enjoy berries (80g per day).
Health mode (total 12 0g carbs): Three meals per day and up to two snacks (only if you’re hungry). Each meal should contain protein (¼ of the plate), non-starchy salad and vegetables (¼ plate) and starchy vegetables, pulses or lowcarb grains (¼ plate) with the remaining ¼ as healthy fats.
In addition enjoy berries (80g per day), a glass of wine or vodka (with a slimline mixer), plus two squares of dark chocolate per day.
Each meal should contain:
Protein: Meat, poultry, fish: 100- 150g (palm-sized portion) per meal, but relish the chicken skin and savour the fat on a juicy steak.
Eggs: Up to three a day.
Vegetables: As much as you like and as wide a variety as possible.
Fats: Large handful of nuts (not peanuts) or 2-3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp butter, coconut oil or nut butter, ½ avocado, 3tbsp of full fat yoghurt, 3tbsp of cream or coconut cream, 30-50g of cheese (hard or soft).
Drinks: Water (6-8 glasses per day), tea and coffee (ideally with cream, but no sugar).
Fruit: Berries, 80g per day.
Carbohydrates: Avoid in weightloss phase, but if you are active enjoy one tennis ball-sized portion (when cooked) per day of ‘dense’ vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, sweetcorn, peas, beans and pulses (lentils, beans and chickpeas) or ‘pseudo grains.
Taking steps to turn your back on sugar, while simultaneously increasing the healthy fats in your diet, is the best way to help keep you feeling full and satisfied (see Keto Diet Guide plan and delicious recipes on the following pages).
But if you suspect sugar has a strong controlling hold on your life, you might need a little more ammunition if you are going to win your own war with it.
So many people — particularly women — find once they start eating sugar, it is nearly impossible to stop.
We commonly use sugar and carbohydrates to numb pain and soothe troubled feelings.
Although we might tell ourselves we’re only going to have one slice of bread or one small chocolate — before we know it, the whole loaf is gone and the box is finished.
Even if you suspect that your control over sugar is slight, it can be difficult to admit you might be addicted.
Denial is a great form of self-defence and a means of protecting ourselves from the truth.
But if you are still craving dessert after a huge meal, if you can’t eat a biscuit without polishing off most of the packet, or if you’ve ever hidden a chocolate wrapper — that’s addictive behaviour.
And, like any addiction, the best way out is to practise abstinence (quit sugar completely) and avoid all the foods, behaviours, thoughts and situations that could lead to temptation.
It’s a tough call, but if sugar is your drug, you’ll need to take it one day — or even one moment — at a time.
The low-carb, healthy fat diet outlined in this series will help you retrain your taste buds and keep a lid on cravings, but you may also have to address the way you think and behave.
Clear out your fridge, freezer and cupboards and replace all the junk with healthy foods.
Don’t even try to keep sugary or starchy junk food in the house because sometimes no amount of willpower will stop you reaching for whatever foods you’re craving.
So, get rid of biscuits, crackers, crisps, chocolates and sweets, bread, pasta and rice, processed foods, anything with ingredients you can’t identify, anything with added sugar, foods labelled ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ (these are often packed with sugar to make them palatable), margarine, sugar, honey and syrups and fizzy drinks.
If you are serious about quitting sugar, you need to fill yourself with food that nourishes you.
Expect a degree of resistance from your partner and the rest of the family, but stick to your guns.
Tomorrow’s paper is packed with lots of advice for persuading your family to join you in your sugar-free quest.
Sugar is very bad for your health and your waistline — do you really want to be feeding this poison to the people you love?
CHOCOLATE AND PEANUT PARADISE
4 tbsp (60g) extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp (10g) Stevia or 6 drops liquid Stevia
2 tbsp double cream
120g peanut butter
In a small saucepan melt the butter and coconut oil together over a low heat.
Stir in the cocoa powder, Stevia and cream.
Mix well and continue to heat, but do not let it reach boiling point. Carefully spoon half the mixture into small silicone moulds or cupcake trays.
Spoon 1 tsp of nut butter into the centre of each of the moulds and pour the remaining mixture over to cover.
Place the tray in the freezer for two hours.
Once fully frozen, transfer to an airtight container in the freezer.
KNOW YOUR SUGAR TRIGGERS
Think about when, where and why you eat trigger foods.
Sugar is so delicious and it’s everywhere — you have to be really vigilant to avoid it.
Remember, you’ve had a lifetime to forge strong associations (tea = biscuits; toast = jam; dinner = pudding; filling station = chocolate bar) which can become deeply ingrained habits.
These ensure a steady trickle of sugary treats to fuel your addiction.
The key to recovery is sitting down with a notepad and picking apart your day to identify your own personal triggers.
So much of our sugar and carb-guzzling behaviour is unconscious, but in identifying your weak points, you can take one big step forward to doing what you can to avoid them — and breaking your link with sugary food.
Aim to have at least three coping strategies up your sleeve to avoid triggers: take a different route to work so you don’t pass the cake shop, eat before you go out to avoid being hungry, get a manicure or concert tickets as alternative ‘rewards’.
LIME AND POPPY SEED MUFFINS
Makes 6 large muffins
100g ground almonds
50g coconut flour
1 tsp walnut or almond butter
1 tsp baking powder
10 drops liquid Stevia
2 tbsp poppy seeds
120ml milk (or almond milk)
1 lime (zest and juice)
4 tbsp double cream
Mix the almonds, flour, baking powder and poppy seeds in a bowl.
Grate the lime and add the zest, but don’t stir, then juice the lime and set aside.
Melt the walnut butter and butter over a medium heat in a saucepan. Whisk the eggs and add the lime juice, milk and Stevia.
Combine the egg and butter mixtures, then combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix well.
Add the cream one tbsp at a time until the mixture is coated. Spoon into a pre-greased muffin tin, bake in the middle of the oven preheated to 180c, 160c fan, gas 4 for 25-30 minutes or until golden.
Whether it’s queuing for cinema tickets (how can you possibly watch a film without popcorn or a bag of sweets in your hands?), the afternoon cup of tea that just seems too wet without a biscuit, or the last hours of the day when you are curled up in front of the TV and ice cream seems the only appropriate reward for all your hard work — your personal triggers may be deeply ingrained.
Changing the pattern could be as simple as pre-ordering your cinema tickets online and arriving just before the movie so there’s no time for the popcorn queue, switching to herbal tea (it tastes odd with biscuits), or knitting to keep your hands occupied.
Are there certain ‘eating partners’ — people who make it really hard to say no to second helpings or a slice of cake — in your life?
Does your office have a ‘feeder’ who continually brings in cakes and sweets for everyone to share, but who rarely touches the stuff herself or himself?
Are you married to the sugar monster who gives you ‘I’m so deprived!’ puppy eyes if there are no chocolate Hobnobs in the incredibly tempting biscuit tin?
Being aware of your own trigger people is important, and the LCHF diet will help dampen cravings, making it so much easier to say no.
100g almond flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp milk, coconut milk or almond milk
Scraped seeds of 1 vanilla pod (optional, but delicious)
1 tsp butter or coconut oil
Put the nut flour and bicarbonate of soda into a mixing bowl.
Whisk the eggs, then gradually stir into the dry ingredients. Add the milk (and vanilla, if using) and mix through.
Let the batter stand for 5 minutes. Heat a small frying pan and melt the butter or coconut oil. Add a ladleful of the batter.
Cook over medium heat until bubbles appear on top, then flip with a spatula and cook the other side.
Remove and keep warm while you make the remaining pancakes.
Serve with whipped cream and fresh or stewed berries.
Are there certain sugary foods you can’t stop eating once you start, or foods that trigger you to eat others that are still-more carbohydrate and sugar-laden?
Trigger foods are usually highly processed and often high in refined carbohydrates and sugar.
It’s not just the fact that they taste good; their refined state means they are absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream, causing a surge in blood sugar.
Your body knows that and will always steer you towards a quick sugar fix rather than something healthy it has to work a little harder to break down.
PORTUGUESE CUSTARD TARTS
2 tsp psyllium husks
2 pinches of salt
2 tsp vanilla essence
50ml melted butter
2 tbsp unsweetened desiccated
Cream and ground cinnamon to serve
Preheat oven to 22 0c, 21 0c fan, gas 7, and grease 10 holes of a muffin tin.
Mix ingredients apart from melted butter in a food processor then add the melted butter and mix well, adding desiccated coconut if you wish.
Pour batter into muffin tin and bake for 20-30 minutes.
Serve with 1 tbsp cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Most women — even if they don’t have any conscious difficulties with sugar addiction — have a deep-seated sense that something sweet can make them feel better.
It might be the chocolate bar ‘compensation’ for a hard day at work, or the extra slice of cake because you worked hard in the gym.
But certain emotions (fear, shame, guilt) might also lead you to reach for those foods.
High-carbohydrate foods are great at raising levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is associated with mood and happiness.
This may explain why some people turn to these foods when they’re feeling down.
Studies also show that sugary drinks can limit the secretion of stress hormone cortisol, which might explain why we reach for sugary drinks during times of stress.
See the box below to help you differentiate between emotional and physical hunger.
NUT AND SEED LOAF
Makes 1 loaf (approx 12 slices)
200g mixed seeds
400g nuts of your choice, such as almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts
4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
75g coconut oil, melted
Preheat the oven to 180c, 160c fan, gas 4, and grease a small loaf tin. Grind all the seeds and half the nuts in a food processor until flour-like in texture.
Chop the remaining nuts roughly.
In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and egg whites then combine all the ingredients and pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 50-60 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Store in an airtight container for up to four days or slice and freeze.
SOS: Stop, Observe and Steer — this is the way to deal with cravings and their triggers.
When the urge to eat something sweet strikes, STOP and take deep breaths. OBSERVE what’s going on — what was the trigger here?
There are two types of hunger and working out which you are experiencing can be tricky.
Here’s a guide.
Starts suddenly. Feels like it needs to be satisfied immediately.
Strong desire for comfort foods. Is never satisfied, even when your stomach is full.
Eating leads to feelings of guilt, shame and regret.
Feels like a fixation on specific foods, tastes and textures.
Comes on gradually.
The feeling can often wait.
Lots of foods look tasty and sound satisfying.
Stops when you are full.
Eating doesn’t make you feel bad, just no longer hungry.
Feels like a physical pain, pang or growling in your stomach.
Now try to find the best possible solution to help STEER yourself away — get up from your desk and go for a walk, make a quick phone call to a friend, or close your eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths.
HALT: Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired?
When a strong sugar craving strikes, ask yourself: Are you really hungry right now or do you have an emotional need?
(See table on the opposite page.) Do you need food or a hug?
Anger can be a big trigger that can lead you to try to self-medicate with food.
Loneliness can make you feel very sorry for yourself, pushing you towards the fridge or corner shop for sweet comfort.
Tiredness is a classic trigger for ‘emotional’ eating, and even though it’s not always avoidable, planning ahead, by having great meals lined up and healthy snacks, will help to keep you away from any sugary temptation.
JUST SAY NO
Peer pressure can be one of your greatest challenges in the drive to cut out sugar.
When someone is putting pressure on you to buckle, you face a choice: share your sugar-quitting story and ask for support, or just say no. You don’t need to add anything if you don’t want to. No is a complete sentence. Remember, what you think about yourself is far more important than what others may think.
If you don’t want to appear rude, ‘No, thank you, I don’t eat sugar’ should be enough.
Makes 12 large crisps
50g parmesan cheese, grated
Paprika, cayenne pepper, salt or garlic granules, for seasoning
Preheat grill to a medium-low setting and line a baking tray with foil.
Take small handfuls of the cheese and arrange into small ‘crisp’ shapes on the tray, leaving space for them to spread. Flavour by sprinkling paprika, cayenne pepper or garlic granules on top.
Place under the grill and cook for 5-10 minutes (watch closely — they’ll burn quickly).
Once golden, remove from the grill and allow to cool, then peel off the foil.
Serve on their own or with a sour-cream dip.
Just like any other addiction, the most important first step when faced with temptation is to avoid — or delay for as long as possible — that first hit of your sugary drug.
If a craving strikes, then aim to delay that urge by at least a couple of minutes.
Every moment that you succeed in putting off temptation is a small victory in itself.
Move away from the sweet treat or carb-rich snack and distract yourself by doing something else instead.
This might be tough at first, but stick with the diet and your taste buds will change so, ultimately, sugary foods will lose much of their appeal.
Keep yourself from sugar temptation
- Don’t skip your no sugar, low-carb breakfast, lunch and dinner because under-eating can only be a trigger for subsequent overeating.
- Plan your meals to be spaced three to four hours apart — and try to plan your week by setting aside time on Sunday to prepare as many meals as possible in advance.
- Ensure your fridge and freezer are always stocked with healthy foods so a great meal or snack is easier to grab than something sugary.
- Never eat on the hop — always use a plate or bowl.
This will mean you are aware of just how large your portions are, and it also encourages you to eat more slowly.
- When preparing food in advance, make sure everything is portion controlled to avoid overeating.
Freezing meals in ziplock bags is a good idea.
- Always sit and eat your food in a designated eating place (at home or work) away from distractions.
Makes 32 crackers
2 tbsp psyllium husks
2 tbsp chia seeds
600g seeds of your choice, such as sunflower, sesame, flax seeds (linseeds)
2 tsp salt
3 tbsp melted coconut oil
Mix the husks, chia seeds and water.
Set aside for 5 minutes until it forms a gel-like consistency, then add the seeds, salt and oil and combine. Set aside for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 175c, 150c fan, gas 3, and line two medium-size baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
Spread the mixture thinly over the trays and bake for approximately 1 hour or until the crackers are crisp.
Remove from the oven, peel off the baking paper and leave to cool.
Store in an airtight container.
INSTANT CRAVING BUSTER
Increasing your fat intake will help with cravings — try a spoonful of coconut oil; it can remove the physical sugar craving instantly.
When you’re confident your sugar cravings are under control, it’s fine to add a little sweetness back into your life.
In fact, you might find a sugar-free sweet treat is just what you need to spur you on.
If you ever get to the point where the diet seems difficult, you’re struggling with the transition and craving sweetness, a small portion of no-sugar pudding can help.
But don’t slip into the trap of making desserts and sweet treats a daily pleasure — save these no-sugar decadent desserts for a weekly family dinner or a really special occasion.
THE NO-CARB BAKE-OFF
Saying no to processed flour and grains doesn’t have to mean an end to the delicious homeliness of baking.
Of course you’ll have to go easy on the portion sizes while you are actively trying to lose weight, but when the LCHF way of life becomes second nature and you no longer have to worry about your waistline, you can start to be really adventurous in the kitchen.
Check out the different nut flours available in health food stores and larger supermarkets or make your own nut flour by blending nuts, such as almonds, walnuts or macadamias in a food processor, until they resemble coarse flour.
A great big family reunion or dinner with friends doesn’t have to end with a spectacularly sweet trifle or pavlova.
You can create an impressive-looking dessert by topping a big pile of mixed berries with double cream or Greek yoghurt and grating a generous dusting of dark chocolate (85 per cent) and crumbled roasted nuts over the top.
Celebrate your excellent dietary intentions with your own fruit/cream bowl, but boost its health benefits further by adding a spoonful of nut butter into the mix.
You can be confident it won’t interrupt your commitment as the fat from the double cream or yoghurt actually helps slow the release of the fruit sugars into the bloodstream.
If you’re craving a sweet snack, push a corer into an apple, then slice it thinly across the middle into thin donut shapes.
Spread each with a layer of nut butter, then sprinkle with flaked almonds.
You can make individual portions of your own delicious instant ‘Froyo’ by blending a handful of frozen berries with a few tablespoons of full-fat Greek yoghurt, or whip up a decadent chocolate mousse by melting a 100g bar of dark (85 per cent) chocolate and whipping it into 200ml double cream until firm.
Divide it into small ramekins and chill.
If you’re asked to bring a dessert to a dinner party, try some individual mini cheesecakes.
Roughly blend some mixed nuts and bind them with melted butter, pushing it into the bottom of a small glass or dish to form the base, then top with cream cheese mixed with double cream, flavoured — if you like — with lemon or lime juice or zest, or even dark chocolate, and topped with fresh berries.
Don’t overdo the blending, or you’ll end up with nut butter.
Almond flour can be substituted for flour in any no-sugar baking recipe.
Coconut flour is another option, but it tends to be drier, so you need to experiment with quantities (and add extra egg, water, milk or butter) or follow specific recipes to get the right consistency.
Any basic pancake recipe can be modified to use nut or buckwheat flour, and it’s worth trying chocolate-chip muffins using almond or coconut flour and dark chocolate rich in cocoa solids.
As you remove sugar from your diet completely, your taste buds will change to the point where you are much more aware of the natural sweetness in foods, even vegetables.
But if you think your baking needs it, add a few drops of liquid Stevia sweetener (they are available online if difficult to find in the shops) to cakes — as long as you keep them as an occasional treat.
- If you have diabetes or high blood pressure or are on any form of medication, check with your GP before making any dietary changes.
There’s lots of research to show an LCHF diet brings blood pressure down if it’s high and can help to normalise blood sugar levels if you have diabetes (type 1 or 2). So keep a close eye on your blood pressure and blood sugar levels and be prepared to adjust your medication accordingly.
Don’t do this without consulting your GP.
- Adapted by LOUISE ATKINSON from Sugar Free: 8 Weeks To Freedom From Sugar And Carb Addiction, by Karen Thomson (Robinson, £12.99).
© Karen Thomson 2016. To order a copy for £9.74 (offer valid to July 16) visit mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640. P&P free on orders over £15.