This month, we’re talking all things sugar – specifically, how to consume less of it to improve your overall health. I’ll be serving up lots of sugar-free recipes, meal ideas, tips for eliminating cravings, healthier food swaps, and more. If you’d like to take it a step further and truly make this part of your lifestyle, be sure to check out the Feel Better Sugar Detox. It’s a flexible plan that’ll help you cut sugar, improve gut health and weight management, stabilize mood and energy levels, and set you up with the tools you need to maintain the results long term.
Think back to when you were 6 years old, waking up for school and heading to the kitchen for breakfast. What did you eat? I’m sure I’m not the only kid who had a boxed assortment to choose from, often including Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Honeycombs, Eggo Waffles and Pop Tarts. Colourful yes, but not really the kind of colour we’re told we should have on our plates for optimal health.
While 6 year old me loved that megadose of sugar at 7am, it’s not an ideal setup for the day. I’m sure most of us have experienced the energetic high of our blood sugar soaring, which also triggers the release of feel-good hormones. We feel great, but only temporarily. That high is soon followed by an inevitable crash, and to prevent the uncomfortable consequences (headaches, exhaustion, mood swings etc), we naturally crave more of whatever gave us that high. Comparing to drug or other substance addiction might sound extreme, but the biological process is pretty much the same. The cycle repeats over and over again, and long-term, that causes inflammation which can seriously increase our risk of diseases.
Can we be stopping sugar cravings before they start?
Oh yes, we certainly can! I’ve gone into a ton of detail on how blood sugar (the amount of glucose in your blood stream) works in the Feel Better Sugar Detox, but in a nutshell, one of the best ways to eliminate cravings is to eat foods that keep your blood sugar curve steady. We want a cruisy car ride along a flat open road, not a rollercoaster!
As you probably anticipated, blood sugar balancing meals are made up of many of the foods you already know are good for you – plenty of veggies (especially dark leafy greens), lots of colour, quality protein and healthy fats. Of course, carbohydrates play a role and quality matters a lot. By consuming them along with fresh produce (often high in fibre and very rich in micronutrients), protein and fat (which help keep us feeling satiated, among other benefits), you can slow the rise of your blood sugar curve. That means no steep crash, and an end to that vicious craving circle.
My trick: It starts with a savoury breakfast.
Rather than starting with a bowl of sugar, a savoury breakfast gets the day off to a strong, craving-free start. Keeping your blood sugar curve stable here means that up-down-up-down cycle doesn’t even begin, and as long as you continue eating blood sugar balancing meals through the day, it’ll stay that way.
Savoury breakfast may not seem very appealing to you right now if you’re used to breakfasts of cereal, granola and pancakes. Even options that have potential to be really health-building like green smoothies and açai bowls can be loaded with natural and added sugar. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll be the first to advocate for the greatness of green smoothies. However, if sugar is something your’e really looking to eat less of, a savoury breakfast could do the trick. This is considered the norm in other cultures around the world, and I think we could benefit from following along.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started, ranging in time commitment (because I know you probably don’t have time to whip out your cast iron skillet every morning!)
So 2017, I know. But it’s still one of the best savoury breakfasts in terms of effort required, nutrition and taste, so it’s worthy of the spotlight! Grab a nice hearty slice of whole grain gluten-free toast, smear it with smashed avocado, then add your choice of toppings. A few ideas to get you started could include:
- thinly sliced hard boiled egg and sliced radish, and flaky sea salt
- smoked salmon and fresh dill
- roasted chickpeas, cucumber and za’atar
- …and more here!
For those who are 100% plant based and don’t do eggs, hummus will still provide some protein to keep you satiated. Starting again with your favourite sturdy base, spread some hummus on top and follow with one of these combos:
- cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and black pepper.
- baby spinach, roasted red pepper and sliced avocado
- hard boiled egg, cucumber and dill
Mashed sweet potato ‘porridge’
There aren’t actually oats in this kind of porridge, although you could add some if you want to. If savoury breakfasts are new to you and don’t sound all that appealing yet, this is a great place to start. The sweet potatoes provide natural sweetness and plenty of fibre which reduces the blood sugar impact. Simply mash up cooked sweet potato, then mix in some yummy spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. If you want to thin our your ‘porridge’ a bit, add a dash of non-dairy milk.
For protein, you could mix in your favourite high-quality protein powder, and/or add your choice of toppings such as:
- 100% natural nut butter
- raw nuts
- unsweetened flaked coconut
- raw cacao nibs
- raw cacao powder and more cinnamon (says the cinnamon fiend over here who can never get enough!)
Whisk together 2 eggs, a splash of non-dairy milk of choice, and some fresh or dried herbs. Sautee whatever veggies you’ve got in a frying pan misted with oil, then add the egg mixture in and let it cook until set on the bottom. Flip in half, cook until the runny bits have set, then serve. I like to top mine with salsa, kimchi or sriracha, but will leave those choices to you! A few veggies that are perfect for this include…
- any kind of mixed dark leafy greens – chopped into small pieces for easy omelette cutting
- bell peppers
- cherry tomatoes
Savoury green bowls
This is the one I go for most often, and there’s so much room for variety. I like a base of dark leafy greens sauteed lightly in coconut oil (hot tip: adding a source of fat will help your body absorb WAY more of the micronutrients in the veggies than if you were to leave it out), followed by a few of these things:
- shiitake mushrooms
- diced cooked sweet potato
- fresh herbs
- sauerkraut or kimchi
- spices (i love a good sprinkle of za’atar, as well as spices like smoked paprika, cumin, all-purpose seasoning, black pepper and flaked sea salt)
- protein ideas: chickpeas, beans, tofu, tempeh, eggs, smoked salmon, sardines (apologies if that grosses you out, but I think they’re delicious) or any leftover meats/fish from your dinner the night before
Savoury grain bowls
Essentially the same as the savoury green bowls described above, but with a base of oatmeal, buckwheat, rice, quinoa or whatever other whole grain you want to use underneath. Grains can be made ahead of time if you like, but most of the above only need about 10-15 minutes on the stove. That means you can cook ’em while you blowdry your hair!
There are so many versions of this delicious eggs-and-tomato based dish, including different spice combos in the tomato sauce, and some that go completely green with no tomatoes at all. You can check out the recipe for my usual shakshuka here.
Egg or tofu scramble, quiche and frittata
Definitely not rocket science – just eggs or tofu scrambled with your choice of veggies. This is one of my usuals nearer the end of the week when I have loose ends to use up – a bell pepper here, some tomatoes there, a couple of mushrooms and a bit of leftover zucchini for example. Tofu doesn’t taste like much on its own, but you can really amp up the flavour profile by stir frying it in some avocado oil, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, sea salt and black pepper. Turmeric will turn it yellow (making it look much more like scrambled eggs), and unlike eggs, you don’t have to wait for tofu to set – just let it get warm throughout.
If scrambled eggs are getting old, you can also get them (and a ton of veggies) in quiche or frittata form. This one is best suited for a cast iron skillet and therefore might be better as a weekend recipe, but the leftovers are absolutely delicious – even if they’re cold.
Finally, savoury breakfast doesn’t need to be all about eggs. For my vegan friends, or anyone who doesn’t like/is tired of eggs, burrito bowls made with your favourite southwestern + Mexican ingredients can be amazing. Pick and choose from:
- shredded greens
- black beans (high in protein and fibre to keep you satiated)
- roasted sweet potato and/or cooked brown rice (optional, both a source of high-quality fibre-rich carbohydrate)
- bell peppers
- cherry tomatoes
- avocado or guacamole
- salsa and/or pic de gallo
- chili powder, paprika or taco seasoning – simply mix it into the sweet potato before roasting, and into the cooked black beans, to enhance the flavour
So tell me…. are you into savoury breakfasts. or do you tend to prefer sweet things in the morning? would you be willing to give any of these ideas a try? And am I the only one who thinks sardines are delicious?