Monday 1 June 2015

Bitter sweet

Last Sunday I spent half an hour rifling through the contents of my larder cupboard and checking the sugar count in our cereals, sauces and tins. For months I have been reading about the damaging effects of processed sugar - sweet poison as one food campaigner calls it - but only recently have I started to take notice. Ransacking the cupboard brought home to me just how much sugar has been added to our food without us realising - if sugar is in the top three on the list of ingredients, there's probably too much of it.

Emma Wildgoose, owner of Eat Real Food
Emma's wants to pack nutrients into baking!
I partly owe my Damascene conversion to a friend who has recently studied to be a nutritional advisor and now runs her own business offering advice and cookery lessons. Emma Wildgoose, owner of Eat Real Food, is on a campaign to bring nutrients back into food, which means that she avoids using processed sugar and white flour in the recipes she designs. "In combination, these two ingredients have a catastrophic effect on blood sugar levels," she says. Her mission is also to "get children unhinged from sugar and pack into baking as many nutrients as possible".

Sweet poison

Sugar (in the form of glucose and fructose) can disrupt the messages in the body that regulate our appetite. Have you ever started a packet of biscuits and then not been able to stop eating them until only the crumbs are left? Blame it on the sugar content! According to experts, not only is sugar invisible to our appetite-control systems, but it is also addictive. That's why we crave it, and when we give it up, we even get withdrawal symptoms. What's more, our bodies convert the excess sugar that we can't burn off into fat.

The latest food research also suggests that our bodies' relative inability to deal with sugar, in the form of fructose, is wreaking havoc on our long-term health. The over-consumption of processed sugar has been linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, bowel cancer, ageing skin, a depressed immune system and liver/kidney cancer, to name but a few.

Healthy bakes free from processed sugar (recipes by Eat Real Food)
A selection of the goodies I baked on the cookery course
But don't despair because Emma has found a sweet and healthier alternative! As a self-confessed, former sugar addict, she knows what she is talking about. "I noticed a huge difference after I managed to give it up," she tells me. "For the first time in my life, I managed to maintain a stable weight without even trying. Before I always had to be aware of what I was eating." She doesn't experience sugar cravings anymore and finds that she is sleeping better because she no longer loads up on sugary treats after supper. Interestingly, she finds she can now taste the natural sweetness in red peppers and tomatoes, which used to be masked by her addiction to processed sugar.

'Overfed and undernourished'

Since qualifying as a nutritionist, Emma has spent months designing and refining her recipes, including a wide repertoire of healthy treats. Her baking recipes replace processed sugar with much smaller amounts of natural sugar, including raw honey and maple syrup which contain trace vitamins and minerals. She also believes we should only eat sugar when it is combined with other nutrients such as protein and fibre. 

Chocolate free from processed sugar (recipe by Eat Real Food)
Sweet treat: making Emma's sugar-free chocolate
"Fibre slows down our absorption of sugar which stops the spiking effect," Emma says. "This breaks the vicious cycle of craving more sugar, sometimes within half an hour of eating it." Amazingly her recipes work! Her chocolates, for example, taste delicious but only contain two tablespoons of maple syrup (or honey) in a batch of 20 pieces. You can also eat one or two of them and feel pleasantly satisfied.

The same goes for her fruit cake, her flapjacks and her divine lemon muffins, all made from wholemeal spelt flour, ground almonds or oats, combined with dried fruit and vanilla essence for sweetness. "Most cakes in the supermarkets provide us with nothing, but then you have taken on 400 calories. We are massively overfed and undernourished," she explains. "My baking recipes are not low on calories, but they do contain nutrients."

Sugar-free flapjacks (recipe by Eat Real Food)
Guilt-free and sugar-free flapjacks
Last week, I took one of her Nutritious Baking Classes to learn how to make her magical chocolate and sugar-free cakes. As well as spending a relaxing three hours baking under Emma's gentle instruction, I learnt where to source some of the healthier ingredients and received lots of nutritional advice. What struck me most, however, was how simple and quick it was to make her recipes. Once the ingredients were weighed out, it only took a matter of minutes to rustle up a tray of lemon muffins or a pot of sugar-free raspberry jam, for instance. Emma's style is definitely no-fuss cooking for all the family!

To read my post about how one of Emma's clients lost weight and alleviated her symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, click here. You can find some of Emma's recipes on her Eat Real Food Facebook page.

Baked treats by Eat Real Food (free from processed sugar)
Look what I got to take home!


Love, Bake, Nourish by Amber Rose
"I like her philosophy," says Emma of this cook book which explores baking without processed sugar. "She's quite relaxed, relatively mainstream and not too healthy, healthy!"

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