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Sugar. It's become a dirty word. Well, the refined kind of sugar because unrefined sugars are healthier and better for you, right? 


For a long time I've tried my best to stay away from refined sugars (white, brown and caster), choosing things like maple syrup and agave nectar instead because that's what all the health bloggers were doing. Unrefined sugar or 'refined sugar free' have become buzz words and we've become obsessed with 'natural' and 'clean' sugars. Maple syrup, date syrup, coconut sugar and agave nectar are the healthy sugars and anything refined is bad.

Or at least that's what myself and many others were lead to believe.

This was something that always bothered me, it just didn't feel right because surely regardless of the source of the sugar and whether it is refined or not it is still sugar? I tried looking up more about it but became so bombarded with information and facts that I didn't quite know what to believe. From what I could tell, there really is very little benefit to having maple syrup over cane sugar in terms of their nutritional values because at the end of the day it's still sugar.

I've wanted to write about this for a long time now but I just felt I didn't have the knowledge or credibility to do so - I'm not a scientist or a nutritionist, all I know is what I've read online. A few weeks ago I came across a wonderful blog post written by Pixie from Plant Based Pixie who is a scientist and who knows her stuff on this topic and I just felt so happy that someone had finally set the record straight and said that actually, unrefined sugar is not better or healthier for you. Laura Thomas, another kick-ass woman of science, has also written about this topic busting the myth that 'refined sugar free' is a thing. It's definitely not a thing.

I used to be scared of refined sugar, brainwashed to believe that everything had to be refined sugar free and that using unrefined sugars is much healthier and better for you. Health bloggers everywhere were shunning cane sugar and instead using a litre of maple syrup in their baking to make 'healthy' cakes. I'm no expert but I was pretty sure that didn't make the cake healthy...

Now I know that sugar is sugar, refined or unrefined, it doesn't matter. So, I'm going to stop worrying and embrace it. Obviously, too much sugar isn't great for you, I'm not saying you should all go and start guzzling down all the chocolate in the world, but we need to stop fooling ourselves into thinking that certain types of sugar are healthier. If I want something sweet and sugary it really doesn't matter what the source of the sugar is. I'm still going to enjoy eating cakes and chocolate when I fancy them but I won't be spending a fortune on 'unrefined' sugars to make them healthier.

I'm done with refined sugar free'.

To find out more about the actual science on this, head over to these wonderful posts:
Does Being Refined Sugar Free Make you Healthy?
Natural vs. Artificial Sweeteners
We Need To Talk About 'Refined Sugar Free'

Not too long ago, and after quite a few months of being vegan, I found out that a lot of sugar brands are actually not vegan. Crazy, right? Sugar in itself is totally vegan but sometimes it is processed with animal bone char in order to remove any colour, leaving it perfectly white. Brown sugar is also sometimes processed in this way. So, unable to figure out for sure whether or not the caster sugar I had at home was vegan, I bought a new one that I knew definitely was. Billington's sugars are all vegan and most of Tate and Lyle's sugars are okay too. See this is what I mean about veganism being a huge learning journey, mistakes can happen so easily because animal products are used in ways you would never expect.

Anyway, onto the recipe and it's a really good one. A few weeks ago I posted a recipe on here for vegan chocolate hazelnut spread, or 'Nutella', and having made a lot of it because it's so good, I thought I'd try using it in a recipe rather than just eating it all out of the jar with a spoon (no regrets). These filled banana muffins were the result. The chocolate hazelnut spread goes so well with the moist banana muffin, especially when eaten warm from the oven. You can also use this recipe without the nutella spread to just bake banana muffins, which are delicious too. 

You will need (makes 6): 
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup caster sugar (I used Billington's golden caster sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 ripe bananas
1/4 cup coconut oil (solid) 
3 tablespoons soya milk
1 teaspoon vanilla paste 
chocolate hazelnut spread (recipe

- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
- Combine all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. 
- Mash up the bananas and melt the coconut oil. Combine these together along with the soya milk and vanilla paste. 
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine together. 
- Line a muffin tray with six cases and spoon around 2 tablespoons of the mixture into each case. Add 1 tablespoon of the chocolate hazelnut spread into each case and then add the rest of the banana mixture on top. 
- Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Download recipe 

I've made quite a few different vegan curries this year, always trying out different spices, vegetables and pulses in search of that perfect combination and this one is by far the best I've come up with. It tastes so close to how I remember takeaway curry tasting and it smells so wonderful. Making this was the first time I had tried cooking with creamed coconut rather than coconut milk and I think it works much better. It's also much more cost effective as I managed to make this curry four times using one block, which was the same price as one tin of coconut milk, whereas I would have used four tins of coconut milk. I am absolutely in love with this dish and have made it so many times since coming up with the recipe a few weeks ago. It's definitely become my go-to curry and probably will be for a long time to come! It's great for cooking in a big batch to eat throughout the week and it also freezes really well so I always pop a portion or two away for another day. It's just so yummy!

You will need (serves 4): 
1 onion 
2 carrots 
1 cup red lentils 
200g spinach 
50g creamed coconut 
1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)
3 tablespoons tomato puree
1/2 vegetable stock cube 
2 teaspoons mixed herbs 
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric 
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic granules 
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

- Finely chop the onion and peel and chop the carrots into small chunks. 
- Add a little water to a large pot and fry off the onion for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat. 
- Add the carrots, tomato puree and all the herbs and spices to the pot to make a paste. Add a little extra water if required and fry all this together for 4-5 minutes. 
- Add the chopped tomatoes, lentils, creamed coconut and the stock cube to the pot along with 2 1/2 cups of water. 
- Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. 
- Stir through the spinach.

Download recipe

Last Saturday was a wonderful food day and we all know that those are the best kind of days. I went to the Scottish Vegan Festival in Edinburgh with my lovely friend Charlene (her blog tartanmouth is one of my favourites so you should definitely all pay it a visit) where we bought one too many vegan cakes, sampled some incredible chocolate and went heart eyed over almost everything that was there. The festival was pretty similar to the Edinburgh Vegan Festival back in August but there were definitely quite a few stalls and brands we hadn't seen before too which made it a bit different.

There were so many exhibitors so we went around the whole lot around three times, just to make sure we weren't missing anything (and to make sure we sampled everything that was on offer). We even got the chance to try some of the new Sainsbury's vegan cheese at the Go Vegan Scotland stall, which we were so excited about having not been able to get our hands on it yet. The two we tried were delicious so I can't wait to try the rest of the range. It was so lovely to meet some of the GVS team too as until then I'd only ever interacted with them on social media. 

After stocking up on all the cakes, brownies, and salted caramel donuts (yes, VEGAN SALTED CARAMEL DONUTS!), we went along to the chocolate tasting workshop that was being run by Pacari because as if anyone can resist a tasting workshop. Pacari wasn't a brand I had heard of before this workshop but it is one I have been totally converted to. Unlike other chocolate makers who simply import the beans from growing countries, Pacari makes their whole product from tree to bar in Ecuador meaning so much more of the wealth stays in the country. As a small family run company, they really do go the extra mile to ensure their product is delicious, high quality, and that it makes a difference too. It was wonderful to hear about a company who truly cares about the local community. If you ever do spot Pacari chocolate then I'd definitely recommend giving it a try, it really does taste even better when you know how much of a difference it is making to the lives of others. 

We headed back into the city centre after the festival and popped to Hula Juice Bar for a drink before going for a wander around the lovely Edinburgh streets in the sunshine. Due to some unexpected train problems, we decided to head up Calton Hill and ended up going to Zizzi for dinner to try out their new autumn menu (and because I was dying to go having never been before). 

It was incredible. I got the classic vegan margherita topped with caramelised balsamic onions, fire roasted peppers and spinach and I think it was one of the best pizzas I have ever had - not just the best vegan pizza. The toppings were so tasty, especially the caramelised onions, and the cheese was so cheese-like, perhaps not quite as stringy as mozzarella is but that's the only difference. I truly think that if you gave this pizza to a non-vegan, they wouldn't notice the difference. Despite having a bag full of cakes from the festival under the table, we obviously just had to try the new vegan calzone dessert. Warm dough stuffed with banana, caramelised pecans and blueberries served with coconut ice cream - we just couldn't say no! I think it could have done with a sauce along with the ice cream (I'm sure the non-vegan version comes with a sauce) but other than that it was perfect. It's so wonderful that such a big chain have introduced a vegan menu and have so many options on it. Everything was incredible, like 12/10 good, and I can't wait to go back! I'm going to be dreaming of that pizza for weeks to come. 

Here's a little tip too - I used my Tesco clubcard points and traded them into Zizzi vouchers using the clubcard boost. There are quite a few restaurants you can do this with and some you get better value than others, Zizzi is one of the best because you can trade £2.50 of Tesco points into £10 food vouchers. I had £20 worth so this whole meal only cost us £5.50! Thanks to my dad for that little tip. 

It was a truly wonderful day out, filled with lovely company, beautiful scenery and lots of delicious food. It's always a good sign when the 'mmm' noise and the words yummy, incredible and wow come out of your mouth constantly all day.