Step away from the sugar: Healthy recipes to help you kick the habit

A chef’s response to realising she had a sugar addiction? Great, satisfying recipes

Chickpea curry

Chickpea curry


Chefs are somewhat infamous for overdoing things. It’s a lifestyle that exaggerates those dependencies we all have – for some it’s alcohol to cope with stress, caffeine to cope with tiredness or sugar to keep energies high.

Over the years, I slowly came to realise that each of these was nothing more than a crutch which temporarily allowed me to work, but long-term they caused a level of addiction. The end of the annual restaurant season meant the end of the need for such high doses to cope and I found myself in the midst of withdrawal and exhaustion so intense I knew it was time to ween myself off.

Alcohol and caffeine were the first to go. I won’t say it was easy but it was nothing compared to the constant struggle I had with sugar.

Sugar is our silent enemy. It’s the most acceptable substance to be highly addicted to and I think it’s a ubiquitous addiction that sadly, no one is exempt from. It’s in most things we reach for in a time of self pity, when we need instant energy or for a celebration. There’s an acceptable innocence in a Turkish Delight (or three in my case) over a glass of wine before service, so that I persistently denied sugar dependency was a problem at all.

I invite you all to consider, over the duration of this weekend, the amount of sugar you ingest. From the sprinkle on your porridge, to the high starch foods – don’t forget bread and pasta – that we all depend on for comfort.

Now, I can’t claim to have parted ways with sugar entirely, and I’m not sure I ever will – I’m guilty of the odd elderflower cordial or chocolate below the acceptable 72 per cent cocoa in a time of self-indulgence.

Cold turkey

At times of boredom, exhaustion or indulgence we frequently reach for comfort food or drink. In an attempt to remedy our ways we tend to go cold turkey, but this is often far too challenging and we give up and go back to our old ways.

Instead, reach for something else; something that won’t leave you with a medley of guilt, nausea and a subtle craving for even more. This week I have compiled a list of dishes that can be made in advance and are rewarding in flavour but don’t require any health compensation – in fact, you will feel better after eating them.

Try these recipes to satisfy your need at those times when you’re tempted by something sweet in the middle of the day or at the end of a long week. The reward is worth it.


Lentil, cucumber and mushroom salad
Lentil, cucumber and mushroom salad

Lentil, cucumber and mushroom salad

Lentils are such a fantastic food source, and this is an interesting way to have them. This recipe is good hot or cold and so is ideal for lunch at work or dinner in the evening. I find lentils are good for my blood sugars and energy levels.

1 cup puy lentils

12 chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 cucumber, thinly sliced


4 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp salt

1 tsp curry powder

2 tsp tamari (a thick, less salty soy sauce)

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1. Boil the lentils for 15-25 minutes or until just soft, then drain.

2. In the meantime, make the dressing by blending the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, curry powder, tamari and vinegar.

3. Next, mix the cucumber and mushrooms in a bowl along with the lentils and add in the dressing and mix well.

Steamed Aubergine Photograph: Emma Jervis
Steamed aubergine. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Steamed aubergine

This dish is full of flavour, will keep well in the fridge and its very versatile. Unlike most aubergine dishes it’s low on oil which is refreshing, and easy to eat.

2 medium aubergines

4 tbsp tamari (a thick, less salty soy sauce)

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

4 spring onions, sliced or ½ red onion finely chopped

1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped

1 cup mixed herbs such as coriander, basil and mint

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring water to the boil in a steamer while you cut the aubergines into cubes. Steam for about 10 minutes or until they are soft right through without any signs of white flesh. Depending on the size of your steamer, you might need to do them in two batches.

2. In the meantime, make the dressing by mixing the rest of the ingredients together.

3. Remove the cooked aubergines from the steamer and leave to cool for a little while.

4. Pour the dressing over the aubergines and mix well. When the aubergines are still slightly warm is the perfect time to flavour them as they absorb the flavours.

5. Serve as a salad, part of sharing plates or as a vegetable next to any simple cooked meat.

Chickpea curry Photograph: Emma Jervis
Chickpea curry. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Chickpea curry

This is a fantastic energy boost, so consider making double this recipe as it will keep well in the fridge; it also freezes well. I find using coconut milk gives it a richness and is good for the soul and is more filling during damp days.

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 tbsp medium or hot curry powder

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes or coconut milk

800g cooked chickpeas

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Small handful of chopped coriander leaves, to garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the onion and ginger. Cook slowly for a minute then add the curry powder. Stir and cook for another minute before adding the chopped tomatoes or coconut milk and chickpeas.

2. Bring the mixture to the boil, cover, reduce the heat and cook on a medium heat for 10-12 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat and add in the garlic and mix well. Serve with the chopped coriander.



A bowl of guacamole is ideal when you feel hunger pangs. It’s fast to make, instantly filling, tastes fresh and is great on its own or as a side to a curry. Feel free to vary the ingredients depending on the time of year and what is available.

2 ripe avocados

Zest and juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes

1 fresh red chilli, chopped fine

3 spring onions or ½ medium red or white onion, finely chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped fine

2 large cloves garlic, crushed

Bunch of coriander, chopped

Olive oil to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Half the avocados, remove the stones and scoop out the flesh. Place in a bowl along with the rest of the ingredients.

2. Next, with your hands squash everything together until well mixed adding more olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

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