Lifebox – Birthday Box

Lifebox. A monthly package delivered to your door, bursting at the seams with snacks, powders, treats, chocolate, drinks and teas to enrich your life, widen your tastebuds and make healthy eating easy and accessible in your busy lives. Jennie and her team have now been providing people across the country with their goodies for the past three years, I have been following them from the very off after finding them on Instagram and watching how far they have come since then.

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With a choice of four different boxes to either order as a one off or as a subscription there is something to suit every lifestyle and pocket. The everyday wellness box, the men’s health box and the women’s health box all costing £22.95, encasing full sized products from exciting new startups and old favourites on the market. Also there’s the Lifebox mini, offering samples of products featured in the everyday Lifebox for a smaller price, so you can dip your toe in the water before committing.

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Is there anything more enjoyable than receiving a parcel in the post? Not really. It’s like Christmas day for me! So the fact that if you subscribe to Lifebox every month you will receive a jam-packed white box, with food and drinks to fall in love with, that’s a pretty great thing to look forward to. Also included is a booklet with workout routines anything from HIIT to yoga and recipes from guest bloggers using ingredients found in the box so when you’re lacking some inspiration you know where to turn.

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So in this birthday box, first some things that were well-known to me:

Alongside that many new nibbles:

Standouts of the group have to be the Vild and Co. granola. Strong in cinnamon but a tart bitterness cuts through from the bilberries. It’s addictive. It’s granola, what’s not to love. The Wilde Nuts chocolate cashew butter is mightily good, creamy but with a good cacao hit. In porridge with raspberries…NEXT LEVEL. I’ve also been enjoying the energy bomb sachet from Your Superfoods in my overnight oats. Cinnamon typically is the only spice or powder that features in my breakfasts (maybe maca if i’m feeling fancy), but this mix-up of açai, guarana, lucuma, maca and banana powder is nice to switch things up a bit. Lightly sweet from the banana, supposedly great for energy levels, not that I’ve noticed a difference but as long as it tastes good, that’s what we’re here for really!?! A note on the Leithy Creates raw puds, specifically the peanut butter truffle, it’s a good job that you don’t get more than one they’re devilishly good and would be polished off in one sitting!

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Head on over to their website to see what’s in store for this months’ box. Follow them on instagram @lifeboxfoodco for some daily inspiration for recipes, the breakfast and drinks in particular are really rather funky, and the odd giveaway here and there. you never know you might be the lucky devil one day! Don’t miss out on the seasonal specials either, at Christmas time and Easter there tends to be a luxury Lifebox, full of seasonal treats. Better than your tub of quality streets?? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

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Low-sugar acai bowl

My Instagram feed has been LOADED lately with smoothies. Smoothie bowls, açai bowls, ‘nice’ cream, basically blended up cold things, with toppings for crunch.

Don’t forget the toppings!

Out of all the breakfast foods (OK perhaps not the avo toast as that is the ULTIMATE in photogenicity) the smoothie bowl photos rather well. Thick and creamy in a vibrant green or purple – or brown if you use spinach – a good nut butter drizzle and the generous overflow streaming down the sides. It’s cool, similar to ice cream so surely is the perfect candidate for summer breakfasts when porridge most definitely isn’t the answer.

Why is it then that every time I make a smoothie, it just doesn’t float my boat. I’m not sure whether it’s that a liquid meal just doesn’t satiate my appetite? Or perhaps that I’m conscious of not adding too much fruit so instead it ends up tasting of pond, never mind resembling one? I just can’t figure it out. SOS (save ones’ smoothies).

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Now I’m sure we’ve all heard of the açai bowl. A street snack from Brazil which is a deep purple berry frozen and blended and then topped with toppings galore. Bananas, granola, berries, coconut, seeds, you name it, you can top it. Here in the UK the açai berry isn’t as abundant so we have to rely on frozen bananas for the texture and then freeze dried açai powder or little frozen sachets of the açai pulp for the taste and colour. If you’re then centering your toppings around granola, banana and berries it’s not a very balanced breakfast. Meaning spiked blood sugar levels and a grumble in your belly by 11am. Breakfast preferably wants to contain a good balance of slow and fast release carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats so we need to rethink our smoothie bowl making rituals.

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Something else that has been trending lately. Fruit-free and low-sugar smoothies. Yuppp that’s right, ones that supposedly don’t taste like salad, are filling and all add up to that much needed 5-a-day (or is it now 7, or 10? I’m not sure it keeps changing). Frozen banana is the fruit of choice when it comes to smoothies, but have you ever considered steamed and frozen cauliflower? Or courgette? Or butternut squash? Thought not. Me neither. The furthest I ever roamed into vegetable territory was spinach or kale , the odd bit of avocado – that’s technically a fruit so doesn’t count!

Steamed to make it gentler on your tummy and frozen to keep the smoothie chilled, vegetables are a wondrous addition. Paired with ground flaxseeds, a spoon of plantbased protein powder, some berries, maybe a cheeky half a date as I’m just not that hard-core, milk and any funky powders you like, you’d be none the wiser that it contains some cruciferous vegetables. A spoon of oats or soaked buckwheat blended into the mix would be ideal if you need it super filling, or a generous sprinkle (*ahem* handful) of granola or muesli…leftover cookies in my case.

Maybe this smoothie bowl is the one that will change things forever? It was good. I’m not going to lie. But I am still ever faithful to my porridge/toast/muesli/overnight-oats rotation. The girl knows what she likes. -\_(‘~’)_/-

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Maybe I haven’t landed upon the perfect granola yet? Not too sweet, plenty of crunch. The sort that you just can’t get off of your mind. Saying that, this one was mega, it hasn’t escaped my mind. Maybe I’ve found the one?!?

If you’re after some more smoothie bowl inspiration and recipes, all low sugar veggie-centric and drool worthy may I add, head to these blogs and Instagram accounts. These girls are killing it in the smoothie game.

Low-sugar açai bowl

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup steamed and frozen cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup steamed and frozen courgette (zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup berries (I used a mixture of strawberries and blackberries, any fresh or frozen would work)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup milk
  • 1 heaped tbsp açai powder
  • 1 tbsp protein powder (I used hemp)
  • 1 tsp ground flaxseeds/linseeds
  • 1/2-1 date depending on sweetness preference

Topping ideas

  • Granola (try to use a low sugar one)
  • Muesli
  • These crumbled up cookies
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, banana, kiwi
  • Bee pollen
  • Cacao nibs
  • Chopped Nuts
  • Nut or seed butter (I used a roasted almond, cashew and hazelnut)
  • Yogurt
  • Coconut flakes
  • Puffed rice, buckwheat, quinoa or amaranth

Directions

  1. Add all the ingredients for the smoothie into a high powdered blender, starting with 1/4 cup of milk.
  2. Blend until everything is blitzed smooth and you have a thick smoothie with the consistency of ice cream, adding more milk if necessary. A high powered blender will work best here, I use a nutribullet. One less powerful will struggle to blend the frozen fruit and vegetables and it will be lumpy.
  3. Spoon into a bowl (watch your tongue on that blade I know you’re licking it clean!)
  4. Choose your toppings, add as many or as few as you wish.
  5. Dive in whilst it’s still cold, and don’t forget that picture for Instagram!

Enjoyed al fresco basking in the morning sunshine listening to the birds whistle their tunes. That’s the ideal breakfast situation. Not achievable most of the time I know, but on the one day that it appears, make the most of it. Embrace it with both hands, the smoothie bowl included, and DIG IN!

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Chocolate and banana granola clumps

Let’s start this post with a quiz. Name for me a breakfast food that one might consider ‘healthy’?

I’ll give you a few seconds to think about it…

Was granola one of the first ideas to come to mind? A deep bowl of fat free yogurt, chopped fresh fruit, and a generous smattering of granola. Not forgetting the drizzle of runny honey.

I’m not going to get into the debate here of clean vs dirty. Healthy v unhealthy. As is there really an unhealthy food? A slice of cake someone may think of as unhealthy however when you take a look at your diet as a whole if it’s sandwiched in between lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, surely that constitutes as a balanced diet? Kale and quinoa may be ‘healthy’ but if they don’t make you happy, are we living as well as we think. Cake, cookies, brownies and the sweeter things in life are as necessary as kale. That is fact.

Back to the granola, I’m sure there are many brands we grew up eating or still tip into our bowls each and every morning. Maybe you only bought some boxes believing they were healthy, perhaps better than your favourite Cornflakes, but didn’t really take any pleasure from eating them. Words such as natural, free from refined sugars, organic, low fat, whole, all suck us in to the belief that we are making the right choices. Go and take a closer look at almost any box of granola on the supermarket shelves. Take a real close look. HINT, look at the sugar content.

I know I’ve mentioned before about my thoughts on sugar. I’m not a nutritionist, a dietitian or anyone who has the scientific plain facts, so I suppose what I say should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, it’s evident that as a nation we consume far too much of the sweet stuff. I’m not just talking caster sugar. Maple syrup, honey and agave I’m looking at you too.  Our recommended daily allowance currently stands at 30g per day, that’s 6 tsp. Take a regular can of coke for example, when that contains 35g (7 tsp) you can see how the numbers stack up.

Anything which contains more than 5g of sugar per 100g is said to be high. As sugar or a syrup is the ingredient in granola which brings the crunch, it is going to be higher than say a box of muesli or shredded wheat. There are granolas on the market which have much lower sugar content and are GL (glycemic load) tested, so won’t cause as much of a spike in your sugar levels. That being said, if like me you have tried this one in particular, will know that it resembles a certain food for our feathery friends. Bird food. Dry, floury, not much crunch and rather bland, food for fuel not for enjoyment.

No one needs that. Life isn’t made for boring breakfasts.

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I’m sure many of you have seen this recipe before from one of my favourites, Green Kitchen Stories. Their banana granola is a bit of a worldwide phenomenon. My New Roots has a recipe also. In fact it’s far from a new concept. Google banana granola and the posts are numerous. Hundreds and thousands of them. Hello innovative blogger over here! But you can never have enough granola recipes.

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Yet again I had a few bananas, well past their best, festering in the fruit bowl. Usually that always means banana bread, but no eggs and so far no success with a vegan version of said bread, I just wasn’t going to take the risk. Banana granola was on my mind. Sweetened with fruit and just a little maple syrup to bring the crunch. Thoughts of baking low and slow to ensure no burnt bitter ends and using up some brown rice puffs hiding in the back of the cupboard, well obviously my brain on that particular day was fully functioning. Clumpy granola, lightly sweetened, boulders of crunch to munch whether it be for breakfast or as a snack. It was a result.

This one. A heavy dousing of raw cacao, a big pinch of salt is essential, and some peanut butter too. Cos’ why not! Chopped nuts, coconut flakes, oats, raw buckwheat and puffed rice mixed well with some cinnamon for that sweet spice. It’s simple as you like, low in added sugar and one to use up whatever is going in your cupboards.

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I can’t forget to mention that it’s dad approved. From a dad who likes his breakfasts of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, granola, Shreddies and Weetabix on rotation, and that is that. But this stuff by the handful, he was more than happy. Take it as you like. In a bowl drowned with your milk of choice, ice cold. Or some yogurt, whether it’s coconut, cows or almond topped with a big handful and some fruit. That açai bowl or smoothie that was begging for a bit of crunch, here’s your answer. As a topper for porridge, toast, overnight oats, a vessel for scooping up nut butter or just popping into your mouth… You got it!

Plus it’s chocolate flavoured. How can you go wrong?!?!

Chocolate and banana granola clumps

  • Servings: Makes a small serving which can be doubled easily ( just divide between two trays and rotate them halfway through baking)
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Ingredients

Dry ingredients:

  • 40g almonds
  • 40g walnuts
  • 40g flaked coconut
  • 50g puffed brown rice
  • 25g raw buckwheat
  • 75g rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 big pinch of salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rapeseed oil (olive oil or coconut oil will work too)
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 very ripe banana

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan. Line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone baking sheet.
  2. Chop the almonds and walnuts roughly and add to a bowl along with all the other dry ingredients and stir together.
  3. In a saucepan mash the banana to a purée then add all the other wet ingredients and heat gently until everything has melted and combined.
  4. Pour the banana mixture into the oat mixture and give it a good stir until there are no dry bits left and everything is mixed well.
  5. Transfer to the baking sheet, pat into a thick layer and put in the oven for 20 minutes.
  6. After that time, give the granola a stir by folding it over trying not to break the clumps up too much. Rotate the tray and place back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes. Checking the granola every 5 minutes, stirring the outside edges into the middle to ensure they are not burning.
  7. Take out of the oven when deep brown and smelling delicious. It will firm up even more as it cools.
  8. Leave the tray to cool on a wire rack, whilst the scent of chocolatey banana bread wafts through the house, so hide away from wandering hands! Store in a Tupperware at room temperature where it will keep for around 1 month.

Hope you enjoy this one. It sure is a winner. I’ll be off now, I’ve just eaten a mouthful of granola and I want some more!

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What’s the dealio with dairy?

We pour it on our cereal, splash it in our tea, our coffee, eat it as an after dinner dessert or slice onto crackers with chutney for a mid-afternoon snack. Dairy in all its forms is something we have been brought up on. In the western world we are told as soon as we stop breast feeding to drink our milk, so much so that is an integral part of most peoples’ diets.

Memories of a glass of warm milk before bed as it helps to send you to sleep, that minuscule red wheel of Babybel cheese you fished out of your lunchbox daily, and squeezy yogurts that you stuck in the freezer to make into ice lollies on those (more frequent back then) days of stuffy summer. Frubes I’m looking at you! Dairy, seemed to be a fundamental part of the diet.

Marketing campaigns encourage parents to feed their children dairy products, enforcing the fact that without it they won’t get enough calcium to grow and have strong bones, ‘it will make you strongerer’. The fear of rickets is probably on most parents minds, so if the guidelines say to eat dairy, the children will eat it. What if they were lactose intolerant though? Around 10-20 years ago the only option you had as a dairy alternative was fortified soya milk. Probably sweetened. Most likely a bit gross. There wasn’t really much development in terms of dairy free milks, yogurts and cheeses, and the free from aisle…what free from aisle? If you were lactose intolerant you either gave it up cold turkey, or suffered the consequences.

I can’t pinpoint when exactly, but here in the UK, let’s say 5 years ago? Something triggered a small amount of the population to go dairy free. We also became more aware of the effects of soya on the environment and how it disrupts hormone levels (particularly for us women). The dairy free market was steadily growing, the occasional almond and coconut milks were accessible, still didn’t taste that good- mainly water and emulsifiers – so the need for creamy dairy wasn’t ever satisfied. You know it’s become a thing when Starbucks catch onto the trend and almond and coconut milk become an optional extra, with a 30p charge of course. Soon the media channelled into it spreading the word that dairy is the devil, it leads to cancer and causes osteoporosis, and every other ailment under the sun.

Around the same time, another tribe of people were touting that low fat dairy should be avoided at all costs. You can still eat your cheese, yogurts, milk and butter, but ensure that it is full fat. The higher the better for some, swearing off high fat – low carb diets. Bulletproof coffee (that is indeed coffee blitzed with butter to supposedly give a creamy drink without the crash from the caffeine), full fat yogurt, choosing cheese over dessert and searching out raw milk if possible. Totally contrasting to the dairy free crowd, making it utterly confusing to us consumers.

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this problem for the time being. The government guidelines include dairy as part of a healthy balanced diet, it’s a good source of protein and calcium ensuring that you stick to lower fat varieties as the amount of saturated fat can be high. Personally, I find a happy ground in between all this conflict. I eat full fat yogurt (organic if I can, Yeo Valley is my go to), spread salted butter liberally on my toast and eat cheese when I want. I enjoy dairy. Cutting it out from my life would make me miserable and being unhappy doesn’t contribute to a healthy lifestyle. If you’ve ever experimented with removing or reducing your consumption of something, you will have realised that it penultimately ends up in being substituted with something else. The best dairy substitute by far is nuts, healthy though they are, you can always over do it. Need some cream, use cashews, spread nut butter instead of butter on toast, make cheese from cashews herbs and garlic, and milk from, yet again, more nuts.

Nuts aren’t the only culprits in the dairy free gang. Rice milk has been a favourite for many for years as it’s naturally very sweet, and coconut milk too for something a bit creamier and richer. Oat milk hailing from Sweden and even hemp, quinoa and tiger nut milk can all be spotted. If you’re wanting to switch up your milk routine and try something new here’s a list of dairy free milks that I would always choose. They are tried and tested, all of them with a different flavour which lends themselves to different things.

  • Oatly – Oat Milk

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A personal favourite, creamy milk which tastes as delicious chilled from the fridge as it does on your morning muesli or stirred into your porridge. Also note that it is one of the best dairy free milks for using in tea and coffee as its foams well and doesn’t separate. I tend to choose the blue Oatly carton as it is fortified with calcium, vitamin D, B12 and riboflavin and it is also cheaper than the organic version.

  • Rude Health

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I’m a huge fan of the company Rude Health, having sampled all of their range of milks (many times I may add) they still are a firm staple on my shopping list. Their almond, hazelnut and coconut milks all are made with a base of brown rice so are delicately sweet, perfect for those of you wanting some sweetness without adding sugar, and when blended into smoothies or lattes have a nice subtle flavour. Then there’s the ultimate almond for the purists – with a heftier price tag – and a higher percentage of nuts and none of the rice. The cashew milk too, which I’m highly fond of, purely made from cashews and water, it is the creamiest of the lot and makes a mean turmeric or matcha latte. All of the Rude Health milks have the added bonus that there are no emulsifiers or stabilisers so they do require a good shake before pouring. However if you’re worried about missing out on certain nutrients when you cut out milk, none of these are fortified so you may want to opt for another brand for the everyday use.

  • Alpro – Unsweetened roasted almond milk

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Alpro is well known by the masses notably for soya products, which has a bit of a bad rap. This almond milk though is the best of the lot they offer. Unsweetened and fresh, it’s the sort of milk that fits into your everyday life. More cost-effective too at the cheapest on offer, but with a very low content of almonds and quite a neutral flavour it may not be the most exciting for your tastebuds.

  • Califia farms – Unsweetened almond milk

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New to the UK and currently found in Sainsburys, Califia Farms is a bit of a game changer in terms of almond milk. Carageenan free, no added sugars and utterly delicious I have to add, this one is something to hunt down. It’s so good I enjoy drinking it as is, from a glass (and when I’m that desperate straight from the bottle) and that’s that. Also brilliant for use in hot drinks as there is no curdling and it isn’t thin so you won’t require half a carton to get your tea how you like.

Now what’s my stance on dairy? I love the stuff and have tried (vow to never again) giving it up, and believe that if you aren’t allergic or intolerant and most importantly you enjoy it, don’t deprive yourself. Dairy is high in saturated fat but as long as you don’t overdo it, there will absolutely be no problems. Here’s some of the dairy products that I like to eat, I always try to stick to organic if possible and mix it up by consuming not only cows milk, but sheeps, goats and buffalo too. You will be surprised how many of your favourite cheeses aren’t actually made from cows milk.

 

  • Yeo Valley – Natural yogurt, Greek style yogurt and salted butter

 

I love this brand as all of their products are organic the cows are fed on luscious grass and made in Somerset . I always return back to their natural yogurt, or the greek style if I want something richer, as it has a good tang and you can find it in most supermarkets and even corner shops. The butter too is lovely, a bright marigold yellow with a little salt, spread it on sourdough. That’s what you call heaven.

  • St. Helen’s farm – Goats yogurt

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This may be a dividing option. It’s rich, but with a salty savouriness that balances all out. The flavour too is much stronger than a cows milk yogurt so a little goes much further. Dolloped on a crumble, topped with strawberries or strained to make a labneh. Perhaps keep it real simple with just a drizzle of local honey and a little pinch of salt, bloomin’ marvellous!

  • Feta cheese

The most famous of offerings from Greece. That salty crumbly cheese that none of us can get enough of. It makes every meal better, whether that be avo on toast, a mundane salad, a sandwich or a pile of broccoli. Add feta and automatically it is elevated. Traditionally feta is made only from goats milk so try to opt for one of those, searching in your local Aldi or Lidl should do the trick.

  • Halloumi

Halloumi tends to be the vegetarians’ choice (and eaten by all the carnivores too) particularly when BBQ weather rolls along. You Nando’s aficionados will know the drill. Squeaky cheese, as my mum refers to it, takes on flavours well so when marinaded and griddled to leave blackened scorch marks, that rivals any sausage or chicken drumstick. Another cheese which traditionally is made from goats or ewes milk and found in the Mediterranean sunnier climes of Cyprus.

  • Longley Farm – Crème Fraîche

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From a dairy local to me comes this crème fraîche. Alongside many yogurts, butters, milk and creams they produce, this is the better than any supermarket version. If anyone knows in more detail, please back me up on this, but supposedly this is the only variety of cream available to buy in France. Crème fraîche goes through a fermenting process to give it that tang, meaning it lasts longer in the fridge and is better for our digestion than cream.

  • Godminster – Organic Cheddar cheese

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Having worked a stint in a farm shop and on a cheese counter, a good few chunks of cheese came my way. Blue, Cheddar, Lancashire, Cheshire, Brie, goats cheese, I like them all, but when it comes to making a cheese board I know that a good cheddar will always be the first to disappear and everyone fights for the last slither. This Cheddar cheese from Somerset is mature and punchy enough to stand up to any chutney, but still creamy and lingers on your palate…until the next piece. Available to buy in the UK at many delis by the slice or in individual truckles. Grated into a cauliflower cheese or sliced in a cheese sandwich, guaranteed it will be the best you have ever made.

To wrap it all up, I still don’t think there’s an outright decision on whether we should be eating dairy or not. Do what works for you. I do try to limit my dairy consumption, so that means substituting dairy milk for a plant based milk instead, for environmental reasons mainly as methane production is one of the main causes of global warming. Milk is something in the western diet that is consumed at least once a day, particularly for us Brits – we’re all rather partial to a cuppa – very swiftly by switching that up you’ll be eating and drinking much less. Yogurts, cheeses, butter and cream don’t tend to be an everyday thing. Also yogurt and crème fraîche (and some butters if they’re french) are all fermented or cultured. They’re beneficial to our guts and if you’re not a huge fan of other fermented products such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi they are a good way of getting those good bacteria into your diet.

Do what’s right for you, your lifestyle and your budget. As long as we’re all ensuring to eat as many vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, mainly plant based, then that cheeseboard and a glass of vino, it’s there to ENJOY!

Until next time

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Stumped about sugar?

Sugar. White and ‘processed’, dark brown, golden syrup, maple syrup, sweets, honey, toffee, caramel, fruit, dried fruit, coconut sugar, Stevia, molasses. Whatever your mind conjures up when I mention this buzzword, we have all been paying particular attention the past year or two to this meddling carbohydrate.

The word refined-sugar has been thrown around by health bloggers, newspapers and the media, a term supposedly describing types of sugar that have gone through a form of processing and had all ‘goodness’ removed. Countless recipes stream down your Pinterest feed that are labelled refined sugar free. Millionaire shortbread bars, brownies, cakes, cookies, all our favourite sweet treats made allegedly healthier. So eating the whole batch in one go is fine, because its not made with sugar right??

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Along with clean eating, gluten free, dairy free, low carb, all these diets which are becoming the norm, refined sugar free is another which has been added to the extensively long list. We are told day after day that sugar is the devil, no longer fat as we used to believe. That it causes cancer, diabetes, obesity, the main ailments that are  putting such a strain on our NHS and healthcare services. Of course sugar is a main ingredient in things such as fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits, but does everyone think to look on the back of packets of sauces, ready meals, condiments, flavoured nuts and crisps? Take a flick through your cupboards and I’m sure you will be surprised at how thinly sugar manages to spread itself.

First things first, sugar isn’t all too great for us, just to put it straight. It’s found naturally in most foods like fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, its very high in energy which in turn gives us energy to move, breathe and basically live. The thing we need to watch out for is added sugars or free sugars as you may often see it written. This term defines products where sugar has been added and isn’t found there naturally. Think of syrups, fizzy drinks, the sugar in your tea or coffee and even in fruit juices. When it comes to free sugars we have the choice of whether to add them or not, unlike total sugars such as lactose in milk and ones found in fruits and vegetables. For adults it’s recommended in the UK that we consume no more than 30g of added sugar every day. That 30g is quite difficult to picture in your head, so think about it like this, 7 tsp/sugar cubes MAX, and for children this number is obviously lower.

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In 2016, Jamie Oliver started the Childhood Obesity Strategy, in a ploy to crack down on increasing obesity rates in the UK. Some of many things he was campaigning for, a sugar tax, a ban on junk food advertising pre-watershed, clearer labelling including a visual sugar content, and reduction in manufacture for excessive sugar. If you watched Jamie’s Sugar Rush you will have seen the impacts that it is having on us all across the world, especially those consuming a typically ‘western diet’. After his petition going to debate in the commons, the government failed to accept the majority of his pleas, only compromising with the sugar tax with no given amount as of yet.

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We are all more aware now of the sugar content in things. I think we’re heading in a good direction, eating more consciously and lower sugar the majority of the time and eating the odd brownie if you fancy it, HELL why not! Of course it’s not going to do you any damage. That REAL brownie is surely going to satisfy that craving more than a sweet potato one full of maple syrup or agave syrup. My main issue is the group of people calling a sin on refined sugar-white caster sugar or soft brown sugar-meanwhile pouring bottles of maple syrup on their 2 ingredient pancakes or baking cakes with coconut sugar as it contains lots of minerals so its better for us.

I’m not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but I know well enough that sugar is sugar. No matter what you want to call it, our body sees all types of sugar in the same way. Whether it’s raw honey, agave syrup or caster sugar, it gives us energy, any extra is stored as fat and doesn’t give us any health benefits. It is true that maple syrup contains potassium, magnesium, zinc and calcium. It’s also true that coconut sugar contains electrolytes and vitamin C along with loads of other minerals, and yes raw honey is antibacterial (perfect if you have a sore throat) however you would have to eat a ton of any of these to reap any benefits. The amount of sugar consumed would obviously then outweigh the ‘good for you’ label.

Another group of people are the sugar free crusaders, shoving all types of sugar containing foods aside, including fresh fruit. That means no syrups, no apples, bananas, possibly the odd portion of berries because they’re ‘lower in sugar’, no dried fruit, juice only if its green made completely from vegetables. You see, I went through this phase, thinking I was doing the right thing. In the sugar free phase, I found I was opting for lots of nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt, avocados, things quite high in fat to fill in that sugar free hole. It wasn’t a great time, and seriously what is wrong with fruit?!? NOTHING, EXACTLY. Fruit contains fibre and lots of it, and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know all too well that we need a lot of roughage in our diets. Dried fruit too contains lots of fibre, prunes have a reputation for a reason, so sprinkle them on your breakfasts and include them in your diets.

Happily now, I’ve managed to bring myself to a middle ground, keeping my overall added sugar levels to a minimum, but not putting a big red cross over it for the rest of eternity. There is nothing wrong with a little of the sweet stuff. No matter the source of origin your body will recognise it as glucose or fructose-just organic molecules-they aren’t separated into groups whether they came from a medjool date or a sugar cube. Remember those 7 tsp of added sugar to keep an eye on daily, and if you’re a lover of a sweet cuppa perhaps its a good time to start reigning it in. Take it slowly, stretched out over a few weeks and your taste buds will soon adjust.

Changing the odd daily habit will make a huge benefit to your diet in the long run:

  • When baking reduce the quantity of sugar by a third in recipes. It’s the maximum amount of sugar to remove without it affecting the structure and texture of the bake, but the flavour is still just as good.
  • Buy natural yogurt instead of sweetened and add your toppings and mix-ins to your own taste.
  • Instead of having jam or marmalade with butter on toast every morning for breakfast, try a spread of peanut, almond or even cashew butter with some sliced banana. The combination of high protein nut butter with the sugar from the fruit and carbohydrates from the bread will keep you going until lunchtime.
  • If you’re a big fan of fizzy and soft drinks, and water just is tasteless and boring, try infusing jugs of water with fresh fruits, citrus, herbs or vegetables. Things like mint, lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, berries, melon, as good as it sounds!
  • That chocolate bar is the only thing which gets you past 4pm? Banning it is not necessary, if you can learn to love dark chocolate. Preferably 70% or above, the higher the better, as it is lower in sugar and due to the deep intensity a few squares is usually enough.
  • If dairy free milks are your jam, check on the ingredients list. On many of them, sugar will be the second or third on the list. Opt for the unsweetened varieties, or ones made with rice for some natural sweetness.

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Let’s put a stop to this term refined sugar free. It’s defunct. Its all the same stuff. Sprinkling coconut sugar on your Rice Krispies sure ain’t no better than sprinkling white sugar on. So save those extra £££s (that stuff is expensive) and stick to a bowl of porridge!

Thanks for reading my little rant, if you have anything else to add or want to join in the conversation please do comment below.

Until next time, love and sweet blessings

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You’re sweet enough as you are

We’ve ran out of mincemeat. That’s it. The official ending of Christmas.

I made a mini (silent) vow to myself in the Christmas run up that I would try to eat as many mince pies as possible to satisfy my hunger for the boozy tarts until next year.

Now post-December I believe my attempt was rather feeble. Probably only reached a grand total of 10, or maybe it’s 20…I’m not too sure. Next year I will have to step up my game.

I suppose as a blog trying to promote a healthier lifestyle you may think that I am totally contradicting myself. Mince pies containing sugar, butter, pastry, alcohol and dried fruits aren’t exactly going to help maintain your figure but for one month of the year we wear so many layers to protect from the cold, that extra bit of padding will be hardly noticeable.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

So here’s to January, mince pie free but in desperate need for a sweet treat that really ain’t that sweet. Well, in fact it contains no added sugar at all, unrefined, refined or otherwise.

That’s more like it.

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I really do love baking, and there are so many ‘sugar free’ recipes out there. However these recipes typically replace the full amount of sugar that you would find in a normal cake with an equal amount of ‘unrefined sugar’, such as maple syrup, coconut sugar and agave nectar. If you’ve ever ventured into a health food shop you will know all too well that these substitutes will leave a large gaping hole in your pocket. Aside from the price tag, they will still cause the same addictive sugar rush we get from bog standard caster sugar.

^^This is the issue I have. A ‘so-called’ healthier cake never tastes as good as a proper one. You may be munching on your vegan, sugar free, gluten free cupcake saying how amazing it tastes, how light and airy it is…but let’s be frank, it ain’t. Now on the odd occasion give me a proper slice of Victoria sponge, some Bakewell tart and I’ll be on cloud 9 but not desperate for another piece as just the one wasn’t completely satisfying.

I’m on a mission to find baking recipes full of wholesome ingredients, which don’t pretend to be a healthified version of our favourites, taste amazing and contain as little added sugar, or none at all, as possible.

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One thing I like to do if baking a NORMAL recipe is reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3, it doesn’t affect the taste and it is the most amount of sugar you can take away without affecting the overall bake and texture. So that 200g of sugar in your sponge, try reducing it to 130g, your taste buds will gradually get used to flavours less saccharine and start to appreciate others nuances such as the toastiness of nuts, a hint of vanilla, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg or that little bit of salt on your choc chip cookie.

So this past week I’ve had a couple of bananas gradually darkening, way past an enjoyable eating stage, in my fruit bowl. There’s only one answer for that. Of course. BANANA BREAD! Perhaps one of my favourite cakes, sliced into a thick chunk, occasionally toasted but always (OK sometimes peanut butter sneaks in there instead) with a thick blanket of organic salted butter.

I suppose a lot of people assume banana bread is quite a healthy affair, considering it contains a portion of fruit right? Sorry but quite wrong. Banana bread tends to contain a hell of a lot of added sugar, even when the bananas are sweet enough as they are.

So here’s my favourite recipe which just uses the natural sweetness of the bananas with no added extras. It’s light and airy, not claggy like some banana breads can often be, spiced richly with cinnamon it sits well enough on your plate for breakfast as it does a 4pm slump snack. Try adding a handful of raisins and crushed walnuts to the batter for some more texture and an extra bit of added sweetness that feels a little more indulgent. I like it both ways.

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Banana bread

This banana bread contains no added sugar, is gluten and wheat free and can be made dairy free by substituting the butter with coconut oil. I made this one nut free using pumpkin and sunflower seeds in the batter and topping, however a handful of walnuts or pecans is always a welcome addition. Half a tablespoon of maple syrup can be added if you feel it won’t be sweet enough, but I think it is perfect without, especially if you add raisins to the batter.

Recipe adapted from Hemsley and Hemsley

Ingredients

  • 4 large very ripe bananas
  • 60g coconut flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp maple syrup (optional, I feel it’s fine without)
  • A handful of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (or crushed walnuts, pecans and some raisins, or perhaps even some dark chocolate chunks)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin with baking paper and set aside for later.
  2. Peel the bananas, and weigh out 350g. Reserve the leftover banana to slice up and decorate the top, or do as I did, save for later for on top of a slice of banana bread spread with peanut butter. Mash the weighed out banana until smooth.
  3. Whisk together, the coconut flour, salt, cinnamon and bicarb in a bowl.
  4. Crack the eggs into the mashed banana, whisk together and mix in the melted butter, vanilla extract, apple cider vinegar and extra maple syrup if you’re using it.
  5. Tip the dry ingredients into the banana-egg mixture and whisk until there are no lumps remaining.
  6. Add in a handful of seeds or your addins of choice and mix well.
  7. Pour into the tin, top with more seeds and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Cover with foil if its browning too quickly.
  8. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack, then store in a Tupperware in the fridge. Or slice portions and freeze ready to stick in the toaster for a quick breakfast or snack.

NOTE: If you use sunflower seeds in the batter, as I did here, don’t be alarmed if you spy bright green flecks in your banana bread. The sunflower seeds react with the bicarbonate of soda and turn green. They’re completely harmless and taste no different, it will still be as delicious.

You stick the kettle on, I’ll bring the banana bread and butter. Deal?

With love and blissful moments

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