Five Easy Sugar-Free Sweet Treats

Em Unravelling

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To be clear: these recipes are not diabetes-friendly, or low in carbs or fat (although the ice cream and muffins are naturally quite low in fat). They are simply free from refined sugar, and a decent alternative to “junk food” if that is the choice being made.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been an avoider of refined sugar for a long time. We all know it’s a baddie. Not only does it rot our teeth but it can cause Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It interferes with our energy levels and our moods. It has meanly allowed fat to take the blame, for years, for all the things that have gone wrong with our diets and our health. In short, it’s best dodged as much as possible.

When my son, then aged 7, was diagnosed some years ago with a serious bladder condition that would need surgery, I did some research into the issues that he had and discovered that sugar is a known bladder irritant. His bladder had the problem that it would regularly spasm and knot; I believed that without sugar, it would be given a chance to relax.

Keen to avoid the risky surgery, I put the whole family on a refined sugar-free diet, and at his next bladder pressure review, he’d moved into the “safe” range and was allowed to be moved to annual checkups, rather than booked in for a bladder augmentation operation. I have no idea whether this was a coincidence; he had stepped up his bladder exercises too, and his medication had been shaken up. But I didn’t want to test the theory by re-introducing sugar. And so, in the decade since then, we’ve had far less refined sugar than most people. It’s not perfect, but we rarely use it.

But I still like sweet treats, so I’ve acquired a few failsafes over the years. Here they are:

1. Nut Butter Stuffed Dates

No cooking involved at all in this. Take big, juicy Medjool dates — as many as you fancy. Then prise them open along the cut where they were de-stoned, and stuff them with crunchy peanut, hazelnut, or cashew nut butter. Push slightly closed again around the filling, to keep things neat.

Arrange them on a plate, and freeze. Within an hour: bite-sized, chewy goodies. Trust me, they’re delicious.

2. Peach Flan

All you need is a pack of ready-made puff pastry (or make your own, but seriously, isn’t life too short?), a jar of sugar-free jam, and two tins of peach slices in juice.

Drain the peaches. Then slice the slices again, to make them wafer-thin, and allow them to drain again in a sieve (so they’re nice and dry) while you roll out the puff pastry into a square. Crimp the edges, like a shallow pie crust, and then brush the sugar-free jam over the surface. Lay out the peach slices, overlapping slightly, then sprinkle with cinnamon (if you like) and bake for 20 minutes until the whole thing is golden and tinged with the gentlest brown at the edges. This is good either warm, with Greek yogurt or cream, or in thin slices when cold.

3. Banana muffins

These are a sugar-free variation on the lockdown staple. When your uneaten bananas are good and sticky and dark, peel 2 large bananas (or 3 smaller ones) and mash them to a liquid. Add an egg, a generous handful of raisins, a handful of jumbo oats, and spices to taste (I like ginger and nutmeg). Then, stirring the wet batter, throw in handfuls of self-raising flour until you have a rough, gluey paste. Don’t over mix — a few patches of unmixed flour is fine.

Dump mounds of this paste into muffin cases and bake for 15 minutes at 190 degrees C. These are a particular favorite of children, I find.

4. Quick banana “ice cream”

Where would we be without bananas? They’re so naturally sweet, they’re a godsend.

Another option apart from muffins when you have over-ripe bananas is to slice them, then freeze the slices until properly solid. Tip the frozen slices into a food processor and blitz with a tablespoonful of nut butter and a few drops of almond milk until the mixture develops the consistency of ice cream. Truly scrumptious.

5. Sugar Free “Jam” Tarts

Another recipe, another pack of pre-made pastry — shortcrust, this time. Make sure you buy the non-sweetened kind. Choose your sugar-free jam, making sure it’s sweetened with fruit juice rather than artificial sweeteners — Whole Earth is a reliable brand. You’ll also need a baking pan with shallow indents (these are sometimes sold as mince pie pans).

Then, simply cut the pastry into rounds to fit your tin, push them into the pan and add a teaspoon of “jam” to each tart. Bake for 10 minutes. Indistinguishable from the sugary kind, and so much healthier.

I think that one of the reasons refined sugar is so popular — apart from the fact that it makes things taste so addictively nice — is the ease with which we can buy or make things that contain it. These five recipes are tried and tested and ever so quick. I am a dangerous combination of very busy, very lazy, and very poor at time management, so I always need recipes that I can prepare quickly and without too much thought — preferably from things we already have in the cupboards.

The list above contains my go-to recipes, and I hope they can become so for others too. But remember: in an emergency, there’s always raspberries and plain yogurt. Delicious, and no refined sugar in sight.

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.

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