10 March 2015

Sugar Swaps // Carrot Cake Pancakes

This year Change 4 Life, a public health campaign by the NHS, are running Sugar Swaps again, encouraging people to reduce their daily sugar intake by giving them the knowledge and tools to enable them to do so. Over the last few years, sugar has loomed large on the agenda in terms of public health, with the high sugar content of modern diets playing a critical part in the explosion of obesity and type 2 diabetes in populations. This month the World Health Organization (WHO) has published new guidelines advising an even lower sugar intake - now the official line is that sugar should ideally comprise no more than 5% of your caloric intake (that's roughly 6 teaspoons a day). 

So Sugar Swaps is a very timely campaign, and I signed up a few weeks ago. I generally eat a balanced diet, but unfortunately I do have a real sweet tooth which I find difficult to ignore at times! I thought getting some advice on finding satisfying substitutes for cake and chocolate could only be helpful.

Once you sign up, you get a pack in the post to help you on your way. It's aimed at families so there's some kid-friendly stuff in there like stickers and flashcards, but also some useful bits for the grown ups too, like a notepad for your shopping list, a booklet with recipes, and some money off vouchers for low sugar and sugar free items. The flashcards in the pack highlight how much sugar can be in the foods you eat, and how easily the amount of sugar you consume adds up over the course of a day. For example, a box of sweet cereal has, on average, an eye-watering 34 sugar cubes in it! 

Sugar Swaps pack

In terms of suggestions for getting my own sweet tooth under control, Sugar Swaps recommends swapping puddings for fresh or tinned fruit or fruit salad, sugar free jelly and low sugar yoghurt. Although I am a big fan of Total Greek with fruit, sometimes you just need something a bit more substantial to stave off the sweet cravings. Luckily the booklet also features recipes for some more filling lower-sugar puddings, breakfasts and snacks you can make yourself.

Although I think the campaign is a great way to motivate people to transition to a lower sugar diet, I think one of the main reasons for the high levels of sugar consumption in the Western diet is actually the prevalence of 'hidden' sugar in foods. It's fairly obvious that ice cream and muffins are high in sugar, but not everyone realises that even savoury items, everything from your chicken sandwich to your microwave ready meal potentially has had sugar added to it. This includes products that are marketed as 'healthy' or 'low fat': they may even use fancy sounding words like 'raw cane sugar' to make it sound healthier, when in reality it's still just another form of added sugar. The only way to eliminate excessive sugar from your diet is to read labels very carefully, avoid processed foods, and cook from scratch as often as you can.

Speaking of cooking from scratch, I had to give one of the recipes in the booklet a go. One that caught my eye straight away was Lorraine Pascale's Carrot Cake Cinnamon Pancakes, which sounded like a winner to me. I made these for breakfast but you could happily make them for dessert too. I amended the recipe slightly as I didn't add protein powder (I hadn't trained that morning and so didn't need the extra protein, plus the eggs and greek yoghurt contain protein anyway) or the honey (as I knew I'd add sweet toppings).

These were really easy to make and turned out very much like American style pancakes, which surprised me as there's no flour or baking powder in them. I think part of the reason for this is because I made the batter by throwing all the ingredients in my Nutribullet, which must have beat more air into it than a regular blender, making the pancakes really light and fluffy. The batter can easily make four large pancakes. I made one large one to eat straight away, and then four smaller ones to put in the fridge/freezer and have later. I ate mine topped with a banana and maple syrup (sssh don't tell the sugar police!). I think next time I'll throw some raisins into the batter after blending it, to make the pancakes even more carrot cake-y.

Carrot Cake Pancake with banana & maple syrup

What healthy alternatives do you reach for when you have a craving for something sweet?

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