Using healthier ingredients

Before you start on the healthier lifestyle journey and if you are still not sure where to start, a good starting point is to reduce the fat and processed sugar by a third in your normal (traditional) recipes. In most instances you won't even notice. When you have tried this for a while you can start exploring the wonders of cane sugar, agave nectar, nut butters, coconut oil, baby food (fruit purees) and more. Or you can just dive head first into the pool that is healthy food!

Below is a list of healthier ingredients you can use instead of the less healthy ones:

Instead of processed (white sugar):

Use agave nectar, maple syrup, barley malt syrup, date syrup, rice syrup, rapadura cane sugar or other types of cane sugar. You can also blend dates, apricots and raisins together and use as a sweetener. It all depends on the recipe, which sweetener you use because when baking meringues for example you wouldn't be able to use agave nectar or date syrup (which would be perfect however when making muffins). For the meringue you would need cane sugar (as finely ground as possible).

For cookies I find it is best to use a combination of cane sugar (rapadura or any other) and agave nectar. This combination will ensure that the cookies will be crunchy (and you will also need a sufficient amount of fat). If the cookies are supposed to be soft you can use date syrup and agave nectar or any other natural sweetener. Baby food and fruit purees in general don't go well with cookies as they will be too soft.

For tea breads and muffins you can use agave nectar or any other natural sweetener you prefer. You can also use the natural sweeteners combined with baby food (fruit purees) or apple sauce. You can of course also use cane sugar.

For any other types of cakes and cookies it will depend on the recipe, which sweetener you would use. Sometimes a liquid sweetener (such as agave nectar or apple sauce/fruit purees) gives the best results and for other you will need dry sweeteners such as cane sugar.

Instead of butter:

I use cold pressed, organic coconut oil in all my baking and cooking because it tolerates heat well. I also use other oils such as rapeseed oil and sunflower oil. For anything that doesn't require heat I use nut oils, olive oil or avocado oil. It depends on the recipe which oil I use.

You can substitute butter with the same amount of coconut oil. For 100 grams butter you can use 100 grams coconut oil instead. Keep in mind that in traditional (normal) recipes you will often find that reducing the amount of oil/butter by a third will make no difference to the end result but will make a substantial difference to your health over the coarse of several years!

I use nut butters extensively in my baking because it provides healthy, mono-unsaturated fats and gives a nice texture and flavour. I mainly use peanut butter, cashew butter, almond butter, hazelnut butter and tahini (sesame paste). I make the nut butters myself (using a powerful food processor) however you can buy them in any health food store. I often use nut butters in combination with coconut oil. I find that in cakes and cookies it gives particularly good results. If you are allergic to nuts you can use coconut oil or rapeseed oil instead.

Instead of milk:

I use soy milk, rice milk, almond milk and oat milk in my recipes simply because I don't like regular milk. I am not dairy intolerant so I use yoghurt and cheese in my recipes. You can use vegan alternatives if you prefer although in many instances these are filled with additives and funny stuff so make sure that you buy organic products.

Note that the soy milk I use is sweetened with apple juice so if a recipe calls for soy milk and you only have unsweetened soy milk on hand, add half a teaspoon agave nectar (or one teaspoon apple juice) for every 100 millilitres soy milk.

You can often use tofu instead of yoghurt especially in smoothies and for frosting on cakes. If a tofu substitute can be used, I will mention this in the recipe.

Instead of cream:

I never use cream to make food richer. Never. I might use oat cream to make a soup richer but I never use cream made from dairy. It has a high fat content, will clog up your arteries and personally I hate soups that have cream floating on top. I use oat cream when I want to make my soups richer and I might on some occasions use single cream but with no more than 12% or so fat content. I don't like using soy cream as it is often filled with funny stuff (additives and rubbish) and the same goes with 'vegan creme' especially the ones that are in a spray can. Read the labels carefully when buying 'alternative creams'.

On very rare occasions I will use whipped cream. I will use it on pancakes (Icelandic pancakes with jam and cream) and on waffles (Icelandic waffles). That happens about twice a year so I am not going to feel too bad about it. If you live a healthy lifestyle 363 days out of 365 and if you exercise, some whipped cream once in a while isn't going to put you into the ground.

Instead of wheat:

I use spelt flour for all my baking and have done so since 2001. I remember it specifically because that is when I first moved to London and became familiar with spelt flour. I use wholegrain spelt flour although you can combine white and wholegrain. For all baking you can use the same amount of spelt as you would wheat. There are some recipes that I prefer to use white spelt flour in and that is biscottis, pancakes and cream buns. You can also try a combination of wheat and spelt flour if you are a little unsure about the spelt flour. Spelt flour tastes similar to wheat but is slightly nuttier.

Instead of baking powder:

I use gluten free and aluminium free baking powder for all my baking and have done so since 2001. You can use the same amount of gluten free and aluminium free baking powder as you would regular baking powder. If you are not gluten intolerant and you don't mind the aluminium you can use any baking powder you prefer.

Instead of yeast:

Yeast is not particularly bad for you unless you are intolerant. It's just that I don't like the taste of yeast which is why I don't use it. All my recipes are yeast free and I don't even know how to make 'old school breads' so I leave it to all the good bakers out there. Breads made without yeast are always heavier and denser than breads with yeast as it is the yeast that gives them the fluffy and airy texture. Note that the stock cubes I buy are also yeast free.

Instead of eggs:

The egg dilemma....they say the egg whites are good for you but the yolks are bad for you. Then once in a while studies are published stating that yolks are actually good for you. No wonder we become confused. As long as we consume eggs in moderation I think we will be fine (unless you are intolerant of course). There is not much you can use in place of eggs but in some recipes you can use flaxseed. Yes flaxseed! Soak 1 tablespoon flaxseeds in 2-3 tablespoons water for a few hours. Pour the water and the flaxseed where you would otherwise use your egg. It is not exactly the same but eggs are mainly used for binding the ingredients and the flaxseed will help with that. You can use this in recipes such as nut cutlets but won't be able to use this method for ommelettes for example, or pancakes.

In most health food stores you can buy egg replacer although I have never done so and I am not familiar with the ingredients. Ask staff at your local health food store for advice.