Like all patterns of behavior, you can change food habits, too.
Last October I went cold turkey on sugar. I didn’t intend to quit sweets permanently, but wanted to experiment what – if any – short-term benefits reduction of glucose has on my health. Little did I know how much it would affect my cooking, eating and well-being!
Up until I was 40, I had a healthy relationship with sugar, and honored a sweet treat usually on Sundays during a feast in the temple ashram. When my interest in cooking developed, I found desserts to please most people: serving a knock-out cake or fudge would patch whatever shortcoming the main course might’ve had. When I started to organize cookery courses, baking pies and cobblers along with preparing candies and puddings became everyone’s favorite class. To the degree I enjoyed inhaling the scent of caramel, cardamom and butter in the kitchen – who wouldn’t – my tongue acquired more and more sweet taste, and sooner than I realized, I was buying ice-cream, chocolate bars and vegan gummy bears from the shop – something I hadn’t done since my teens.
Within a couple of years an innocent pleasure transformed into sugar addiction. Instead of supplying energy for the body, the constant munching of confections made me chronically fatigue and contributed to all sorts of ailments from brain fog to eczema, hot-waves, insomnia, heartburn, over-weight and other endocrine complications. Finally, when a blood vessel in the wall of an ovarian cyst ruptured and caused me to bleed all September and the beginning of October last year, I was inspired to break up the love affair with sugar and carbohydrates. In fact, I was ready to do anything to alleviate the physical mayhem, hoping that paying a closer attention to nutrient intake would help my hormones to moderate energy reserves and balance out the metabolism.
Of course I had cravings at first. Every afternoon around 4 pm, when the blood glucose levels hit rock bottom, the mind knitted hypotheses to refute my new found sugar-free lifestyle, and statements like “you are seduced by righteous eating” and “you have orthorexia nervosa or abnormal attachment to health food”, and “eating is a social experience you are ruining by your fanatic attitude” ambushed my determination. At the same time, there were results that counteracted these arguments: the eczema I had battled with for six years cleared out; I regained a normal sleep rhythm; and all premenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, heartburn, irregular periods and moodiness ceased. When I figured out, in two or three weeks, how to maintain a steady energy level by increasing fats and proteins in the morning, and consuming highly concentrated nutrients from items like raw beets, avocadoes and cruciferous greens on each meal, I no longer hankered after creamy tarts and pastries. My body started to burn fat instead of sugar and, as a bonus, I lost 12 kg (26lb) within six months. It seems that by replacing excess sugar and carbohydrates with more substantial elements, the body will gradually burn its fat supplies, and find its ideal state.
From the point of view of food-blogging, I’m facing identity crises. The most viewed posts on this site have been infused with sugar. Some of you may wonder if I’ve become a food-fascist that will torment you by condemning all syrup-dripping desserts by uploading only vitamin-laced recipes from the platform of entitlement!
I haven’t worked it out yet how to proceed or whether I will ever cook with sugar again. Probably when time goes by, I might start adding a teaspoon of sweetness to cancel overly sour ingredients like tamarind or tomatoes, but for now I’m happy to stick to recipes that don’t require even that. My objective is to be stronger and more active in my 50’s than I ever was in my 40’s and, somehow or other, I hope this blog will reflect the mood, too.
Letting something go is never one dimensional. Omitting sugar from the diet bound me to fresh foods – salads, sprouts and all kinds of greens, and fruits – which I hardly ate before. In some ways I think I have been “a carbohydrian” or “a protenian” rather than a vegetarian, because grains and pulses covered my plate in a larger extent than vegetables. Now I find myself thinking of food in a different way, and couldn’t imagine a meal without an uncooked component that gives the instant burst of vitality. Instead of eating cooked beans and lentils daily, I prefer them three or four times a week in small portions. Unlike before, I can well skip rice and bread.
I’m developing new recipes every day. Here is one of them:
Butterbeans, cashews and oven dried cherry tomatoes wrapped in lettuce leaves
250 - 500 ml (1 - 2 cups) butterbeans + water for soaking and cooking
A bunch of watercress
A bunch of sage leaves
Oven dried tomatoes (recipe here)
2 Tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp hing powder
¼ tsp cayenne powder
250 ml (1 cup) cashew nuts
1 Tbsp desiccated coconut
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp dry roasted jeera (powder)
½ tsp amchoor powder (green mango powder)
1 tsp kala namak powder
1 ½ tsp Himalayan salt
Sort, wash and soak the beans overnight. Cook them in a pot or pressure cooker until they are soft but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
Wash the lettuce, watercress and sage. Set aside to dry.
Heat up the olive oil over a moderate heat and add the hing and cayenne powder, immediately followed by the cashews. Roast the nuts until they are light golden on all sides.
Add the coconut and toast until they change the hue and become fragrant.
Add the beans, tomatoes and sage leaves. Sprinkle everything with black pepper, jeera, amchoor and kala namak powder, and salt. Remove the pan from the stove.
Place a spoonful of beans in the middle of each lettuce leaves, and add a couple of stalks of watercress. Wrap up the leaves and secure them with cocktail sticks.
If you cook the beans and roast the tomatoes in advance, it takes only couple of minutes to assemble a quick lunch or snack.
I sprinkled the tomatoes with olive oil, cayenne powder and Himalayan salt before roasting them. You can use other spices and herbs for variety.