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Snack attack without excess sugar

Better for you: swap white sugar for brown sugar and apple sauce

This week we filmed a lip sync video for a Family Centre fundraiser and accidentally overdosed Belle on sugary stuff.

We chose Maroon 5’s Sugar, partly for the irony and partly because it’s such a good tune. It’s also got the fastest lyrics known to man, which are totally impossible to keep up with if you sing every word. That was a fail on my part. Next time we’re picking some kind of slow-moving ballad about quinoa.

We had to start filming on Sunday ... in the torrential rain, on the beach. We’d looked for indoor venues but couldn’t think of anywhere where we could throw sugar around with abandon.

The main problem was that Belle ate a fair amount as we went. I was so busy trying to push aside my British aversion to embarrassing myself that I didn’t really notice until it was too late.

She ran in circles for the rest of the day. We were those parents — the ones with the wild child everyone thinks should be better behaved. We just had to roll with it until the effects wore off. I saw it then with Belle and I see it with other children all the time, how sugar makes it hard for some to control their behaviour. Throw in artificial food dyes and it can be even worse.

I caught myself telling Belle off a lot, but that night, as the parenting guilt set in, I realised I hadn’t really been fair.

I’d put her in that situation. I’d made the sugar available and as fun as it was, it was my own fault I had a little devil on my hands. As I mulled that over, a Halloween party invitation popped into my inbox. And so the sugar fest continues ... but does it have to?

Halloween seems like an odd event for a nutritionist to love, but I do. I love all the dress-up and trick or treating and spooky traditions. Over the years, we’ve managed to pull the sugar level way down. We use Susie Switch (more on her next week) to reduce the amount of candy and get it out of the house quick.

I always make pumpkin cupcakes as little Halloween treats because they’re sweet but not too sweet, and a total crowd pleaser.

It took us four attempts to perfect this because I was aiming for a naturally low-sugar, gluten and dairy-free recipe suitable for lunch boxes or health-conscious adults.

It’s a tricky combination as many of the successful gluten-free recipes use heavily processed ingredients as binders (it’s the gluten that is so good for that in baking). Low-sugar recipes often resort to artificial sweeteners, which are another nutritional no-no.

Here, I replaced wheat flour with a combination of brown rice flour and cornmeal. I encourage you to go organic on these to avoid GMO grains and to reduce your pesticide exposure. Supermart, Lindo’s, MarketPlace (the stores with organic sections), Down to Earth and the ABC Adventist store all stock good options.

Next, I replaced the white sugar in the template recipe with a combination of brown sugar and apple sauce. If you can find it, you could replace the brown sugar with Sucanat which, as a wholefood, would be even better.

The reduction in sugar means these are not as sweet as regular muffins or cakes. They are still sweet, but not super sweet. However, if you are just transitioning your family into healthy eating — and if hiding pumpkin in a muffin would be a triumph in itself — then you could use all sugar as a stepping stone.

I also replaced canola oil with coconut oil, the new rising star from the “good fat” camp. Although coconut oil is high in saturated fats, these are plant-based MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) which are easier to digest and have a host of health benefits.

New evidence is suggesting that the fats in coconut oil have, for example, antimicrobial properties and the ability to lower LDL cholesterol. Of course this could change (we have to accept that nutrition is an evolving topic, just like mainstream science) but so far, my experience with it has been great.

If you’d like to try it, it’s usually stocked at all the stores mentioned before. You can either use the refined or unrefined version — I used the unrefined.

I did use home-steamed and mashed pumpkin for mine, but you can absolutely use canned in a pinch. Just make sure you get plain canned, rather than a pumpkin pie filling which would throw off your seasoning. Rather than frost these, I made a “flax sugar” mix to sprinkle on top. You put this on just before they go in the oven. The recipe below makes more than you need but that’s deliberate — it’s great as a topping to plain yoghurt too.

One final note, I made these as mini-muffins so I could include them in the girls’ lunch boxes. I am presuming they would work just as well in larger muffin cases, or as a loaf, but you would need to adjust the time. Let me know if you do and I will add the details to Facebook for others to share!

Pumpkin Mini Muffins (makes approx 36)


1c cornmeal

2/3?c brown rice flour

¼ tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (use more for adults or stick to this for kids’ palates)

¾ c brown sugar or sucanet

2 eggs, whisked and at room temperature

½ c apple sauce

1 c pumpkin (either steamed and well mashed, or tinned)

½ c coconut oil, melted

Flax sugar: ¼ c milled flax seed, ¼ c fine brown sugar or sucanat, ¼ c desiccated coconut.


1. Preheat your oven to 330F.

2. Prepare the flax sugar — mix all ingredients and crumble any sugar lumps with your fingers. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.

3. Place mini cases in the mini-muffin pans.

4. Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl and mix.

5. Mix in the eggs, apple sauce and pumpkin, using a hand whisk.

6. Mix in the coconut oil until well combined.

7. Fill the cases until they are almost full.

8. Sprinkle the flax sugar on top.

9. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until firm but springy on top.

10. Cool in the trays for a few minutes and then transfer to wire racks.

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda