I talked about my quest to go sugar-free for 8 weeks in an earlier post. Today's write up is an extension of that. I mentioned briefly my view that reducing/cutting sugar is sure to have some positive effect but that reducing carbohydrates as a whole would introduce further health benefits. Again, there is a lot of back chatter so if you're just after the recipe, skip to the end of this dialogue.
Cutting back sugar has been EASY for me. I never drank soft drink or fruit juice. I don't really enjoy processed snacks. All I had to do was substitute fruit for nuts. What has been a huge challenge for me is eliminating bread from my diet. I don't like rice or noodles but bread is a staple for me. On my first week of going sugar-free, I was nearly downing 4 slices a day. That's when I realized that just cutting sugar didn't automatically mean improved diet. Complex carbohydrates were getting the better of me.
I've been reading up a lot on Atkins (and similiar low carb diets) and Paleo. For those who don't know, I'll briefly summarize these concepts below. By that I mean REALLY simplify. If you are interested, it's advisable to read up some scientific literature and make your own informed decisions.
Atkins can be summed up as thus: our body is programed to use carbohydrates as a source of fuel. By limiting carbohydrate intake in our diets, our body believes it's short on fuel, goes into 'ketosis mode' where it starts to burn fat reserves instead.
The Paleo movement is all about reverting back to a caveman lifestyle and diet. The theory is that humans were evolved to process a diet high in protein, natural fat and leafy vegetables, as that was what was available in the predawn era. Since then, the development of agriculture has introduced dairy and wheat to our diets, which our body isn't designed to digest. Paleo can be quite extreme in their beliefs, including such recommendations as going to bed when the sun comes down. I find that unpractical in modern life and in any case, I'm not about to convert into a total cavewoman just because.
All I'm doing is tweaking my diet in a way that I hope will be of the most benefit to my body, long term health and eating habits. I'm currently still off sugar and have significantly trimmed back my intake of complex carbs (no more bread, no crackers, and minimal wraps and starchy veggies). Both Atkins and Paleo support the ingestion of natural fats along with protein. I'm gradually learning that our society's obsession with fat being evil is greatly inaccurate. Fats can carry many health benefits and even potentially reduce the risk of heart disease. However, I still believe in the mantra of 'everything in moderation' and don't feel that acknowledging fat isn't evil is an excuse to go crazy munching on the stuff. My current diet favors fat from nuts, oily fish, avocado, dairy and coconut oil.
To tie all this back to the recipe at hand, I was feeling very lost about what to eat for breakfast when I came across the notion of a low carb muffin. Anyone who's attempted going low carb knows that breakfast is the most challenging meal to accomodate. It's hard to steer away from toast or cereal. Sure, there's bacon and eggs but I don't like the idea of something so heavy first thing in the morning. I saw 'Paleo Muffins' on sale at my local cafe. Upon questioning, I learnt that they were made with almond meal, coconut flour, honey and fruit. That ruled them out for me since I'm off sugar (including fruit and honey) but I did get inspired to find my own recipe.
The original recipe I followed is here. It's fairly neutral but still uses honey as sweetener. I made some modifications to omit that and include extra ingredients that hint at sweetness without containing sugar.
Sugar Free Coconut and Macadamia Paleo Muffins
Makes 16 small muffins
- 2 cups almond meal/almond flour
- 1/3 cup shredded coconut
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1/3 cup coconut cream
- 4 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 200g (approx 1/2 cup) macadamia nuts
1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
2. In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, shredded coconut, baking powder and salt.
3. In another bowl, mix together the coconut oil, coconut cream and vanilla. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Don't be tempted to use a whisk because the coconut oil clumps together.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine evenly. Don't worry about overmixing. My 'batter' (if you can call it that) looked a lot like scrambled eggs. Add the macadamia nuts.
5. Spoon approximately 2 tablespoons of the mixture into each muffin liner.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes. They don't rise much but they change colour slightly and coconut oil bubbles at the sides.
As long as you have the necessary ingredients on hand, this recipe is very easy to follow. The most tedious part was melting the coconut oil. I found the result to be promising. Let's not kid ourselves and pretend this is anything like a decadent chocolate muffin from your local gourmet bakery but it does fill the void that omitting my morning toast has left. These muffins have the texture and consistency of a regular baked product; enough to satisfy cravings anyhow. They are crumblier, drier and well, nuttier than regular muffins. They smell beautiful coming out of the oven. There's something very comforting about the aroma of coconut and macadamia wafting through your house.
The muffins on their own 'suggest' sweetness without tasting sweet but I found the addition of coconut butter emphasized the sweetness and also counteracted the dryness. This recipe is very flexible so if you're not on a strict anti-sugar diet, you can omit the coconut and macadamias in favor of dried fruit. You can also omit the coconut milk and use either water or freshly chopped apples instead. I like the idea of making a savory muffin with the almond meal base and adding ham and cheese.