Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The art of substitution

On my way home this evening I stopped off at Holland and Barrett and bought myself a dairy free dark chocolate easter egg for Easter Sunday. This is my reward for giving up crisps and nachos for lent, although I did accidentally break it last saturday when I was given some corn chips as an appetizer in a restaurant and totally forgot I'd given them up!!

Lent is a long period and has helped me kill a lot of bad habits over the years. But you don't have to restrict yourself to lent to break bad habits and make new ones, all it take is 30 days and a bit of self-discipline.

So as the weather warms up and you start thinking about summer holidays and baring all on the beach it might be worth identifying any bad habits you got into over the winter months and giving them up one at a time, to avoid the harsh reality of having to crash diet two weeks before your summer break.

A few baddies to give up are listed below for inspiration, and are especially good to give up if you are thinking about doing a detox at some point in the next few months so it won't be such a shock to the system.

The key to success is in being prepared so have a think about what you want to give up, when you usually eat it and what you could substitute it for, and then stock up. For example I made sure I had lots of healthy crunchy snacks (nuts, rice cakes, seeds) at work and at home where I'm most likely to fancy eating a bag of crisps. So to help you out I've listed some possible substitutes for these foods.

Coffee and tea - start by weaning yourself onto decaff or green tea, but ultimately aim to get yourself onto herbal caffeine free teas. Closest caffeine-free substitutes are Dandelion coffee and Rooibos tea which both have the comfort factor of tea and coffe.

Wheat - fortunately the supermarkets are now well stocked with wheat and gluten free breads for toast and sandwiches, for pasta try spelt (a less harmful form of wheat) or gluten free. You can also now get yummy gluten free cakes and biscuits in most supermarkets, but save these for occasional treats as they are very sugar-laden.

Dairy - milk is easy, switch to rice or soya varieties, butter is easily swapped for Pure sunflower margarine and Sojade soya yoghurt is a good switch for natural yoghurt. Finding a healthy substitute for cheese is a lot more difficult - you can buy fake soy cheese in health food stores which is a lot better than it used to be and makes a decent cheese on toast. But this is a super processed food so should be used as a stepping stone to giving up cheese of any kind.

Crisps - I found it was the crunch factor I missed the most when I gave up crisps, but nut and seed mixes hit the spot, along with vegetable crudites, whilst rice cakes were a good substitute when I needed some carbs. I also made some herby pita triangles (recipe below) for a comforting sofa snack to have with dips instead of nachos (I made
them with Tesco gluten free pitas).

Chocolate - oh the wonderful cocoa bean, how we love you. What isn't so good is all the fat and sugar that gets mixed with it to make chocolate. If you're giving up cocoa altogether you may need to find an alternative sweet treat (see below) but if it's just chocolate then allow yoursellf some cocoa rich sweet low-fat treats such as my favourite bean brownies RECIPE or Dr Merrell's chocolate mousse substitute (recipe below).

Sugar - sugar is extremely addictive so can be hard to give up but because of this it may be easier to go cold turkey, rather than having small amounts every now and then. Ideally stick to fresh or cooked fruit and dried figs, prunes or apricots to satisfy any sweet cravings, but if you're used to puddings then start making them with fructose or agave syrup and then gradually switch to more fruit based puds. Read all labels, even for savoury food - you'd be surprised how often sugar crops up. Once 30 days are up you'll be surprised how little you miss sugar and how easily you can satisfy a sweet craving with some fruit. Not to say I won't be enjoying my Easter egg on Sunday!

For NITC readers not in the UK, we have a four day weekend from Friday, so NITC will be back Monday night.

Have a good weekend.


Baked pita triangles


12 wholemeal pitas

110ml (4 fl oz) olive oil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic salt, such as Schwartz

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried parsley or chervil


Preheat oven to 200 C / Gas mark 6.


Cut each pitta into 8 triangles. Place triangles on a baking tray.


In a small bowl, combine the oil, pepper, garlic salt, basil and parsley. Brush each triangle with mixture.


Bake in preheated oven for about 7 minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy. Watch carefully, as they tend to burn easily!

Eat fresh from the oven

Dr Merrell's Dark Chocolate Mousse

Place the following ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth and creay, Smooth into a bowl or individual reamkins and chill for 1 hour or overnight before serving, serves 2-4

340g silken tofu

5 tbsp cocao powder

1.5 tsp vanilla extract

150ml agave syrup

1/8tsp cinnamon (optional)

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