Chef Sophie Michell on the health diagnosis that changed her way of baking.
What’s the story behind the book?
A big, scary personal-health wake-up call. I’d been diagnosed with insulin resistance and told I was pre-diabetic. Half of me was relieved to learn this as it explained my little pot belly, constant fatigue, sugar cravings and inability to lose weight, but the other half was horrified by a possible outcome of full-blown diabetes down the line. I was advised to give up sugar and carbohydrates, and prescribed medication to control my hormones and regulate blood sugar.
So, for a chef who likes her food…
I’ve eaten a high-protein diet for years but I found my new, stricter regime much harder to deal with. I was also feeling pretty angry. The irony of my job as a chef was not lost on me and at first I felt like rebelling, regardless of my health. Then I calmed down and started to search for diabetes-friendly recipes and products, but couldn’t really find anything that fitted the bill for me.
And what’s the skinny?
I was shocked by the amount of misinformation out there. When you are trying to monitor blood sugar it is not just about sugar, it’s about white (refined) flours, fruit, honey, agave syrup and even gluten-free flour, as they can all cause your blood sugar to spike. This is how I came to write a book featuring classic baked goods using ingredients that are generally gluten-free, low in sugar, with a lower GI and – mostly – higher in protein. It’s not a green light to overdo the sweet stuff: the recipes still contain calories and are treats, but they won’t damage your health as much as the highly sugared variety.
Your take on sweeteners?
In the book I use the popular sweeteners Xylitol, erythritol and stevia. Xylitol is my sweetener of choice; it’s easy to use and I buy it in bulk online. I also like and often use erythritol, and I generally keep a small bottle of liquid stevia on hand as it is especially useful for sweetening drinks and smoothies. I explore sweeteners in more detail in the book.
What’s with the strange names?
I hear you. Don’t be alarmed. These are the basic names and are how I refer to them in the recipe ingredients lists, but there are various brands available in supermarkets that you
can use, most containing a combination of ingredients.
Among the many brands out there are Total Sweet (Xylitol), Truvia (Xylitol with stevia) or Natvia (erythritol with stevia) and Sukrin (erythritol with stevia). I really like using Swerve, which is erythritol-based. It’s more common in the US, and a bit pricier, but can be found on Amazon.
Tasting the difference?
Some taste sweeter than others but they are pretty much interchangeable in the recipes. Don’t lose sleep over it, and keep cooking and experimenting to find what suits you. It’s really important to me that my recipes taste and feel like their sugar-filled counterparts. Nowadays, even though I feel as though I am having a ‘normal’ dessert or pud when I eat my new versions, I never get the sugar-rush, headaches and fatigue that I used to experience after sugary ones.
Since my diagnosis I’ve learnt that the one thing that makes a difference to my wellbeing is truly looking after myself and being conscious of my actions and diet, something that the hard-working, hard-partying chef in me has taken years to acknowledge. I’ll continue to write new sugar-free recipes and post them on my social media channels, so please join me on my journey and contact me with your questions and comments. The ingredients in my recipes are less standardised than normal flour and sugar, so feel free to reach out to me and I will help as much as possible. We’re in this together!
Sophie’s sugar-free baking recipes
The ultimate pretty party cake. I love the flavours of pistachio and rose together and the green and pink colours make me happy. This is where I get out my vintage crockery and go to town. I have inherited lots of beautiful china including that shown in the picture.
The smell of frangipane (the classic French almond sponge) coming out of the oven is amazing. This is a bake thatneeds to be cooled completely before you eat it: it will keep for a week or so in an airtight container stored in a cool place, and is good for packed lunches and snacks, too. Depending on the time of year, I also make it with plums, rhubarb, strawberries or blueberries.
These have a higher GI than some of my other cookie recipes but the large, gluten-free oats release energy slowly and, with the protein in the nut butter and the banana, these are a great energy boost for children.
A classic, and so easy to make. These are the perfect accompaniment to a strong coffee mid-morning and the joy is that you are actually having a protein ball, full of good fats, even though it tastes super indulgent. It’s only when I don’t get the crazy highs and lows of a sugar hit that I truly appreciate their goodness.
This was the first sugar-free cake that I experimented with and it inspired me to write the book. Who can say no to an ace cinnamon carrot sponge with whipped creamy topping? It’s one of those classic cakes we should all have a recipe for.
My family lives in Greece and this reminds me of the cakes we get there. I generally don’t like massively sweet cakes and this is the perfect breakfast cake with some Greek style yoghurt.
PET SAFETY NOTE Xylitol is toxic to dogs. Don’t feed your pet anything containing Xylitol – if this is a concern for you can use an erythritol-based sweetener instead.
SAVE 25 PER CENT ON SOPHIE’S NEW BOOK
Baking Without Sugar by Sophie Michell will be published by White Owl, an imprint of Pen & Sword, on Thursday, price £25. To order a copy for £18.75 (a 25 per cent discount) until 10 June, visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.