The journey to sustainable, healthy eating habits isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a path of hard work, trial and error, consistent effort and slow returns. Processed foods are plentiful, cheap and easy to consume. For me, the transition to a whole-foods diet, which I started in my early 50s, has been an experiment in balance. I had to find a balance between feeding my body the nutrients it needed to stay healthy and feeling a sense of satisfaction and pleasure from food. I found that I could dial up the flavor profile of healthy foods by incorporating a wider variety of spices, condiments and ingredients. Doing this helped me enjoy meals with gusto while learning about the world’s food and the amazing food combinations that exist beyond the typical American diet. I’ll show you how to reduce sugar and unhealthy fats by adding flavorful spices and condiments to make some delicious, healthy snacks.
There are many rewards to eating less processed foods. Consuming less dietary fat and sugar, and increasing fiber-rich, plant-based nutrients in my diet has given me more energy, helped me drop 60+ pounds, improved my digestion, and lessened perimenopause symptoms. With the added energy, I’ve incorporated consistent exercise into my routine, resulting in a reduction in depression and an increase in self-confidence as I build muscles and improve overall physical endurance. At 56, I’m in the best shape of my life. If you’ve been struggling to reduce dietary sugar and fat, and want to add more plant-based meals to your diet, it’s time to experiment in the kitchen. Let me show you how to reduce sugar and fat with flavorful spices and condiments (starter snack recipes included).
Nutritional Turning Point: Eating Whole Foods Out of Necessity
My commitment to eating healthy, whole foods came out of necessity. I was eating way too much processed food, and once I entered my 50s, my body started telling me that it needed more high-quality fuel to feel good. You can read more about my journey to healthier eating; I’m now focused on maintaining this healthy eating routine. One of my secret weapons: no-sugar, whole-food recipes that rely on a diverse set of spices and flavors so I don’t miss the taste of sugar and fat. Once you train your palate to like natural sugars (and spices in place of processed fats), you won’t miss high-fat, overly-sweet foods either.
As I reduced my intake of processed fats and sugars, I took up a new crop of foods to replace them. Interestingly, widening the types of foods I ate saved me from a life of boring diet deprivation that I wouldn’t have been able to sustain. There’s no room for food shaming in my life—I don’t call foods “clean” or “dirty.” There’s no balance in that mindset, and balance is essential if you want to maintain a healthy eating plan over the long haul. Some key nutritional choices will make your body feel good, and that’s the path to follow.
New Flavors + Experimentation = Nutritious Foods that Wow
I started eating foods I’d never had before, from a variety of different cultures. For example, I added boiled green bananas and black beans into my diet in place of pasta and heavy meats. I ate more vegetarian meals like baked falafel with tahini sauce, and added ancient grains, like amaranth and farro to my diet. I also began experimenting with herbs and spices—Shawarma and garam masala spice blends and Zhoug (spicy cilantro) sauce—to give my palate a lift.
When it came to processed sugar, I was stumped. My body had become more sensitive to sugar as I got older, but I didn’t want to substitute artificial sweeteners (and disliked the taste of stevia). Since giving up sugar for a year was a vital key to dropping 60+ pounds, I knew that to maintain my weight-loss and enjoy the high-energy I had grown to love, I would need to find a middle ground between giving up all sweets and eating processed sugar. I turned to dates. Adding two dates to my day helped curb my sweet tooth while providing a chewy little pick-me-up. I wondered: what else could I do with dates?
Simply Very Nice: the Gift that Keeps Giving
They say when you put something out into the universe, you get a response. I did. Shefali, a dear friend, former teacher and now small-business owner, sent me a special treat in the mail. I’d mentioned that I loved dates, and she ran with that idea (as only she can). Shefali owns a fabulous curated gift company called Simply Very Nice.
Inside the beautiful box was a collection of pantry sweet and spicy delights. The highlights: a versatile date spread, a Shawarma spice blend, turmeric and saffron. I was suddenly in condiment heaven, and I got to work mixing these flavor boosters into new recipes and concoctions. The combinations of flavors and foods you can make with these items are unending.
Here’s what was in my box:
- Lemonfair Saffron Co. Saffron (from Vermont!)
The hardest part of getting a Simply Very Nice gift is opening it. The packaging is beautiful and each item feels like a treat. Here are a few of things I made with my bounty (recipes included):
- No-Sugar Cocoa Turmeric Energy Bites
- No-Sugar Date Nut Granola
- Roasted Shawarma Cauliflower with Cashews
The date spread is a perfect substitute for sugar in a host of recipes, including energy bars, oatmeal, granola, yogurt parfaits, roasted vegetables and smoothies. The turmeric can flavor savory items like roasted vegetables, soups/stews as well as sweet items like cocoa date bars and golden milk. The Shawarma spice adds a fragrant smell and piquant taste to spice up and caramelize roasted cauliflower for a delicious side dish. I add the Shawarma roasted cauliflower to hummus wraps and stir-fries or eat it by itself (so yummy)!
Great Starter Recipes
No-Sugar Cocoa Turmeric Energy Bites
- ½ cup nuts (walnuts/almonds)
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- ½ cup date spread (or 8 dates)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- Add all the ingredients into a high-powered blender or food processor (if you are using whole dates instead of the date spread, make sure they are pitted; you can soak them in hot water for 10 minutes to aid with blending.)
- Pulse all ingredients together to incorporate the dates, coconut, spices and walnuts/almonds well.
- If your mixture is too dry, add a few more dates (and scrape down the sides of the blender/food processor to incorporate all ingredients).
- Scoop out a rounded tablespoon of the mixture into your hands and roll into little balls.
- Freeze for 40 minutes to set then store in the fridge for up to a week.
Nutritional Content (approximate):
Serving Size: 2 bites
Fat: 12.5g (3.8g saturated fat)
No-Sugar Date Nut Granola
- 1 ½ cups oats
- ¼ cup date spread
- 1 ½ cups trail mix (preferably a mixture of cranberries, nuts, seeds)
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Mix all ingredients well then transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Let cool and then break apart and enjoy.
Nutritional Content (approximate):
Serving Size: ¼ cup
Fat: 2.4g (0.4g saturated fat)
Roasted Shawarma Cauliflower with Cashews
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ tablespoons Shawarma Spice Blend
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup raw cashews
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Mix the olive oil and spices in a large bowl.
- Add washed, chopped cauliflower florets to the bowl and toss well.
- Lay cauliflower florets on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until cauliflower is caramelized.
- Top with raw cashews.
Nutritional Content (approximate):
Serving Size: 1/3 cup
Fat: 7.4g (1.2g saturated fat)
This new crop of no-sugar, low-fat snack recipes pleases my palate while helping me maintain my weight loss. You will find that dates add just the right level of sweetness to many foods (no sugar coma afterward either). Instead of focusing on what I can’t have, I’m drawn to these foods because they give me such a feeling of abundance. I turn to them now because they make healthy living feel like a gift that I give myself and not an obligation.
I hope you’ll try out one or two of these recipes, or create some of your own. Experiment, and give your taste buds a chance to adjust to not having as much sugar and fat. The date bites and granola will not taste the same as sugary, store-bought versions, but that’s the whole point. The body will adjust and soon the flavor of the dates and spices will draw you to new and pleasurable taste experiences.
Drop me a comment and let me know how it goes for you.
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