Now, I should start by saying I’m not generally a fan of excluding whole food groups and demonising specific ingredients. Our bodies are very complex, and they process nutrients in unique and individual ways. BUT, and this is a big but, there’s no denying that eating too much refined sugar is not good for us.
Unfortunately sugar has snuck into many unexpected foods. If you’re eating processed food, and most people are to some extent, then it’s likely that you’re eating some sugar, even if you don’t realise it. It’s normally not good sugar either, compared to natural sugars in fresh fruit; nature is very clever and packages this type of sugar with lots of healthy fibre and nutrients.
Why the sugar preamble? Well, the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that this month’s prize on Food At Heart is a copy of I Quit Sugar: Simplicious. With so many people making healthy diet resolutions at this time of the year (and hopefully not falling off the wagon too soon), it seemed like an appropriate time to talk about sugar.
However, I Quit Sugar: Simplicious is not about extreme, New Year dieting. It’s also not about cutting out all the things you love for a short period of time, only to be lured back into bad habits by cheap chocolate bars and biscuits because you’ve removed food that you find pleasure in. It is instead about making long term changes, and developing better eating and cooking habits.
So what’s I Quit Sugar all about?
Rather than being specifically about cutting out sugar, the latest in Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar series is actually more of an ode to eating and living in a sustainable way. Essentially one of the best ways to avoid sugar is to avoid processed foods and to cook as much as you can from scratch. This is good for your health, better for the planet, but it’s also really fun and a great way to tap into your natural creativity.
Sarah Wilson quit sugar herself in 2011 following nutritional advice after being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, Hashimotos. What started as a 2 week experiment became a permanent lifestyle change. The subsequent books based on this dietary change have been incredibly successful around the world.
I’m sure some of you are already thinking that this is just another tactic to boost sales of chia seeds and quinoa (I should add, I love both of the ingredients and use them regularly in cooking). But I Quit Sugar is not a flash in the pan diet; it’s about refreshing and reinvigorating the way you eat long term.
And if this is still not sounding quite like you, you’ll be pleased to know that I Quit Sugar: Simplicious is full of really tasty recipes. There are also lots of tips for avoiding waste in your kitchen and making the most of the food you already have in the fridge and cupboard. Overall it’s about trying to achieve balance for your body and for the environment. And having lots of lovely food along the way.
Eating well for your body and for the planet
How often do you throw tops of spring onions, stems of broccoli or slightly less than fresh salad leaves in the compost or the bin? All these ingredients can and should be used.
According to Love Food Hate Waste, in the UK alone we throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink – over half of which we could have eaten! This is not a good state of affairs, and fortunately I Quit Sugar: Simplicious has lots of ways to avoid this type of waste.
There are whole chapters on effective food storage and preparation, like freezing pesto in ice cube trays so it can then be added directly into cooking. Sarah even talks about collecting leftover fish carcasses from a friend’s dinner to keep for making stock. While this may be a little extreme for you, it’s a good example of what we often throw away that could be used to add wonderful flavour to future dishes.
This is a bumper cookery book, with over 300 recipes. There should therefore be something to suit most people, from small mouthfuls and canapes, to substantial and warming mains. There are also lots of quirky scribbled tips and recipe ideas added as side notes. One of the reasons I particularly like this book is that the recipes encourage you to think beyond what’s on the page. There are also some great flavour experiments: bacon granola or beetroot ice lollies anyone?
So what can you expect? Well there are savoury breakfasts, such as a mushroom, thyme and hazelnut porridge or savoury yohurt pots. There are also nutrient-filled sandwich and abundance bowl combinations that are full of goodness.
This is most definitely not a vegan or vegetarian book (though avoiding over-consumption of meat is an important part of sustainable eating and there are many vegetarians options). Roast chook muffins, Vietnamese turkey pancakes, Chinese beef cheeks, and steak and kidney stew with herby dumplings are all great options for meat lovers.
Of course there are some better-for-you sweet treats if you really do have a sweet tooth. I Quit Sugar mostly uses rice malt syrup as a sweetener and doesn’t use too much of it, in contrast to many other ‘healthy’ cookery books I own. My favourites among the sweet recipes are Tam Tims (any Australian will recognise this biscuity reference), and miso and walnut brownies.
You’ll need a slow cooker for a few of the recipes, but if you don’t want to invest in another piece of kitchen kit, there are plenty that don’t require one. For anything like fermenting you’ll also need to think ahead, but that’s a good reminder to be a little more mindful about food generally.
After reading this very substantial book, I have lots of fermentation experiments planned, including the tasty ‘good for your guts garlic‘ recipe. I’ve also started saving my tea bags for a second use. These small individual changes will hopefully become part of a bigger movement to avoid processed foods, and to think more about food we eat – and waste less of it.
Tips for tasty, sugar-free, sustainable eating
– Eat proper meals containing real food and try to avoid too much snacking (especially the mindless type)
– Eat food that’s full of nutrients; this doesn’t mean cutting out lots of food, but rather eating widely across the food groups, in particular fruit and vegetables (especially the wonky ones and those in season)
– Keep things simple: don’t overload your gut with too many ingredients in one go. This will also let the flavours of what you’re cooking and eating truly shine
– Improvise and experiment with what you already have in the cupboard
– Ferment, freeze, refrigerate: there are lots of ways to store food so that it doesn’t go off. It also means you’ll always have something on standby to eat and you’ll throw less away
– Think of how you can make multiple meals from your ingredients, for example, reusing leftovers or keeping vegetable off-cuts for stock
– If you eat meat, go for secondary cuts and cook them long and slow – and buy organic if possible, especially beef and chicken
– Don’t avoid good fats! Things like extra virgin olive oil, avocado and full fat yoghurt are not only good for you, but also taste good and help you feel satiated
– Take a balanced approach: Sarah talks specifically about Ayurvedic principles and incorporates them in many of the recipes. But it’s also about having a generally balanced approach to diet and wellbeing – too extreme is not too good!
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