Guilt-free treats

Healthy granola bars and Indian butter chicken that’s indulgent,but doesn’t have any added cream


It’s a debate that’s raging everywhere in the nutritional world right now. For years we’ve been told that fat is the enemy, but now there seems to have been a light bulb moment about what might potentially be Public Nutritional Enemy no. 1: sugar.

So, what exactly is the role and value of sugar in our diet? In nutritional terms, sugar has little value – it has no vitamins, minerals, or any other good stuff. Its most well known (and heavily marketed) attribute is that it’s a source of energy, but there’s one big problem with this. Most of us, barring top-of-their-game endurance athletes, don’t need this much fuel; the average energy drink contains about 13 teaspoons of sugar, and two cups’ worth of caffeine. That’s not great for adults, and for children, it’s not good news at all.

In effect, then, it’s excess fuel, and unlike other food we might eat too much of, one that’s devoid of any other benefit, apart from satisfying (usually temporarily) that sweet tooth so many of us have. Sure, a little bit of sugar is okay, for many of us – everything in moderation, after all – but many of us (myself included) eat far too much.

For a really fantastic source of information about heavily processed foods and the companies involved, I recommend Michael Moss’s book, Salt, Sugar, Fat . You will find it hard to look at processed, packaged food in the same light. It really helps remove the sheen from some of the more disingenuous claims that are made by these food behemoths, especially when marketing so-called “healthy” foods, which are usually laden with something that’s not so good for you.

In reality, many commercial cereal bars, too, are high in refined sugar. So I became obsessed with devising a homemade granola bar with no added sugar, honey or agave – that would be perfect for school lunchboxes or as a snack. I do appreciate that dried fruits are also high in natural sugar (fructose), as are bananas. But the oats and nuts will help combat the sugar spikes and you are also benefitting from nutrients found in those ingredients, unlike refined sugar.

Just remember: these are energy-dense foods. So don’t gorge yourself on them, just because you think they are “healthy”. Yes, they are, but they are also full of natural sugars, so small servings should go a long way.

I have suggested using frozen bananas as I am guilty of watching bananas go too brown and young people refusing to eat them, as they are “too brown and icky”. Just stick them in a freezer bag and chuck them into your freezer and use in this recipe. Dead handy and you’ll feel very virtuous knowing they don’t end up in the bin.

The other recipe on these pages this week is nothing to do with sugar, and everything to do with home cooking. I tried hard to find a culinary connection between the two, so here it is: the cereal bars are good for you when most are not, while the butter chicken recipe is not that bad at all for you when most versions are laden with cream. And my goodness, does it taste good. And no, there’s no sugar in it either.
Food cooked and styled by Domini Kemp and Gillian Fallon

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