Plenty of us are trying to make simple but huge changes to our diet now that we're a couple of weeks into the New Year. For many, this includes bringing down the level of sugar intake in our diets.

Tess Ward has been working with Clarks Maple Syrup to help us cut sugar by up to 36%; here are her top tips:

Everything in moderation

Cutting sugar by a third is a great way to make a healthy change this January. My rule is to keep it natural and moderate, especially after hitting the body with the excess of Christmas. It doesn’t mean losing the sweet stuff altogether, you can get your sweet kicks through fresh fruits and natural sweeteners like Clarks Maple Syrup, which has 36% less sugar than white refined sugar.

Be mindful

Winter is hard on our bodies in the UK and eating badly makes getting out of bed on those short  days about five times harder. The hardest thing for me is getting motivated again to make healthy changes, so the best thing is to focus on the small changes and you that can a big difference. Even if you are generally healthy, it’s important not to overindulge on sugar for long time periods to prevent ongoing inflammation in the body.  Cutting back on sugar and being mindful with meal choices will serve you in the long run.

Keep it natural

When I need something sweet, it’s got to be something that gives that wonderful flavour but doesn’t add too much sugar. For me, it’s always maple syrup I reach for, it has the best taste and is the most versatile. Maple is my go-to in daily cooking when I need something sweet in a dressing, a lift in my yoghurt or a dash of something to transform my red cabbage. Maple syrup is 100% natural and pure and it’s tapped, bottled and boiled directly from the maple tree in Canada.

Simple swaps

  • To keep the sweet taste but instantly reduce sugar, I can recommend trying Clark’s Maple Syrup with porridge or muesli in replacement of sugar. It has a delicious flavour, but it also has 36% less sugar than white refined sugar, so it’s one of the easiest swaps when you are cutting down. 
  • Liquorice tea is a great alternative to sweet drinks like hot chocolate. It is naturally super sweet but also aids digestion when drunk after meals.
  • For those who can’t cut dessert altogether (and why should you!) - you can try a ‘faux’ chocolate or cinnamon maple mousse. It’s good if you are desperate for something sweet but want a lighter option. I like to mix 150g of your chosen yoghurt (not fat free) with a couple of teaspoons of cocoa powder OR a pinch of cinnamon and dash of vanilla, then add a pinch of salt. Sweeten with some maple syrup (to taste) and finish it with some toasted almond/ coconut flakes. 
  • When it comes to baking, I find maple syrup is the best direct swap for sugar. It has a lovely, rich flavour that does much more than simply sweeten whatever your cooking. If you keep the quantities the same when replacing refined sugar with maple syrup, you’ll be cutting your sugar consumption by a third.

Be prepared

When thinking about rebooting for the New Year, it is best to focus on improving digestion to get energy back. It’s important to keep snacks close by so when you have something ready when you need a sweet fix and you’re tempted to reach for the biscuits. This is key to remember during those cold January afternoons when you reach the 4pm slump and you’re ready to eat the first thing you set eyes on.  Homemade granola is my sweet snack of choice - I make it with healthy nuts and seeds and maple syrup to keep it sweet.

Tess Ward's Spiced Maple Granola Recipe

The best tip I ever received about making granola is to blend half the oats before you make up the mixture. That way you get more of a crumbly biscuit, clumpy granola than a muesli-like texture. It’s hard to describe why exactly it’s so much better, but trust me, it is!

Ingredients

  • 400g rolled oats
  • 120g sliced almonds
  • 100g chopped pecans
  • 230g sunflower seeds
  • 75ml sesame oil
  • 120ml  Clarks Maple Syrup
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange extract (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees C / 325 degrees F.
  2. Add 1/2 the oats (around 2 cups, if you don't want to weigh it again) to a blender and whizz until you get the texture of a fine oat bran meal. 
  3. Add the blended oats to a large bowl, with the remaining oats, nuts and sunflower seeds. Briefly mix.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together oil, Clarks Maple Syrup, vanilla, salt, orange extract, allspice and cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.
  5. Spread out the mixture onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper
  6. Bake in preheated oven, for 15-20 minutes, then remove from oven and stir.
  7. Return the granola back to the oven and continue baking until golden, checking it every 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool completely before storing.

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