How to cut down on refined sugars

Spoons with sugar on table

Cutting down on sugar doesn’t mean life has to stop being sweet.

Deciding to eat more healthily usually means cutting down on sweet treats – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. While refined sugars can be harmful to our health when consumed excessively, naturally occurring sugars found in foods like fruit, vegetables and dairy are perfectly fine to eat. And that’s very good news for those of us with a sweet tooth!

In the UK, obesity costs the NHS over £5 billion every year and one in four adults are obese. While obesity is caused by a number of factors, there is a strong link between excessive refined sugar consumption and gaining weight. The World Health Organisation states that five to ten percent of our daily energy intake should come from free sugars, but the average intake in Britain is much higher at around sixteen percent.

You might be looking to cut down on refined sugars for a number of reasons – as well as causing weight gain, it can damage teeth, cause diabetes and result in sudden drops in energy. But don’t assume that no refined sugars means a life of puritan meals and strictly no sweet treats. With a few simple swaps, you can cut refined sugars out of your life and still enjoy the breakfasts, brunches and desserts you know and love.

The past few years have seen a number of new natural sweeteners hit shop shelves which not only sweeten dishes – they add another dimension of flavour, too. Agave syrup (or nectar) has a wonderful caramel-like flavour and is around thirty percent sweeter than sugar, so you can use less for the same effect. Coconut sugar is made by drying the sap of the coconut palm and acts as a great alternative to brown sugar. Its subtly tropical flavour also makes it particularly useful for desserts and it is a lot lower on the glycaemic index than refined sugar, so is less likely to cause spikes in blood glucose. And don’t forget about all those delicious fruits, which are full of naturally occurring sugars and boast more flavour than anything refined ever could.

To prove how easy it is to replace refined sugars with natural substitutes we’ve enlisted the help of Chantelle Nicholson, chef-patron of Tredwells in London, to share some incredible recipes for breakfast, brunch and dessert that are all-natural and very, very tasty. These three recipes prove that a few simple swaps can add both flavour and sweetness to dishes.

Ricotta pancakes with strawberry compote and chocolate spread

A lazy brunch is one of the best ways to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning, and this stack of pancakes complete with a fresh strawberry compote and homemade chocolate spread easily satisfies sweet cravings without a grain of sugar in sight. The natural fructose in the strawberries is enough to keep the compote sweet (with a little added zing of lime) and agave nectar gives cocoa powder a little helping hand in the chocolate spread. When both of these are combined with the rich, pillowy ricotta pancakes, you’re left with an incredibly indulgent treat full of natural goodness.


Oat, cocoa nib, sultana and sunflower seed granola

Shop-bought granolas are all well and good, but a quick look at the amount of sugar they contain can cause quite a shock. Making your own is simple, takes a matter of minutes and is both healthier and more flavourful than anything ready-made. In this recipe, rolled oats, crunchy cacao nibs, juicy sultanas and sunflower and sesame seeds are roasted in a little salt and olive oil until golden, before being glazed with a little agave syrup for sweetness. Topped with a dollop of yoghurt, a pinch of cinnamon and whatever fruit you like, this is a homemade breakfast of champions.

Coconut mousse

Coconut mousse with passion fruit, lime and roasted pineapple

You might think cutting down on refined sugars means desserts are strictly off the menu, but this gorgeous tropical explosion of warm pineapple, silky coconut and lime mousse and passion fruit isn’t just vegan – it’s also all-natural. The pineapple is roasted in a coconut sugar caramel, which lends it an incredible flavour, and the mousse is made with aquafaba (the liquid found in chickpea cans), coconut yoghurt and a little xanthan gum to help thicken it. What you’re left with is a delicious dessert that would happily sit on any restaurant menu and can be on the table in under an hour.

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