Buffalo News Refresh – April 2017

By: Holly R. Layer

The WNY Refresh ‘No Added Sugar Challenge’ – A progress report

How’s everyone doing on their April ‘No-Added-Sugar’ Challenge? I was pleasantly surprised to hear how many of my friends planned to join me in avoiding added sugars or in some other ‘get healthy’ undertaking. Between Facebook and those I ran into around town, we have a small crew of people interested in improving their health, which makes me excited!

First of all, congratulations and keep up the good work! It takes a lot to commit to something like this, so kudos to you if you’ve tried to omit sugar for even a day or a week if not the entire 30 days. We’re more than halfway through April, so I encourage you to stay strong until May 1. (Here’s a gentle reminder NOT to ‘celebrate’ the end by eating all the junk you’ve been avoiding.)

Secondly, if you fell face-first into a bowl of jelly beans Easter Sunday, cut yourself some slack and get right back on the no-added-sugar bandwagon. Everyone makes mistakes and this isn’t a Whole30—you don’t have to start over. Just like I tell those I counsel, you’re never more than one opportunity away from making the right choice.

Just to keep it real, here’s how I’m doing:

  • No dessert for me: While on a weekend trip to Philly, I was the only one of the group to pass on (what was apparently) very good water ice. I’m a huge fan of the cool treat, but I was still full from my cheesesteak dinner and didn’t think it was worth it to break my challenge.
  • Being prepared while out of town: For both our trips this month, I packed compliant snacks and breakfast items so that I’d be prepared. I made my no-added-sugar banana muffins, brought plain yogurt, grain-free granola, trail mix and lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Homemade jam: I found a recipe online and gave it a whirl. After cooking some fruit and mixing with chia seeds to thicken, what you get is a fresher, fruitier ‘jam’ to mix into yogurt or spread on toast. Check out my blog for the recipe.
  • Weight Loss: I’ve also incorporated calorie counting back into my routine using the MyFitnessPal app. It helps keep me accountable, curbs snacking and late-night eating and promotes appropriate portions. Calorie counting is something I dread until I start, and in about a day I realize how much better I feel when I’m being more diligent about what and how much I’m eating.
  • The hubby has really impressed me. He’s following the rules (although he was a bit more liberal while traveling) and even trying new things, like unsweetened tea and seltzers…and likes them!
  • In an effort to be transparent with my readers, there have been some ‘exceptions.’ Ordinarily I’d insist that there be no bending of the rules, even during our two weekends out of town. However, in the interest of rule-breaking (something I’m working on personally) and ‘food freedom’ (something else I’m working on personally), and the fact that there are just some really great things out there you can’t get in WNY, I allowed myself a couple treats while traveling. All of them were delicious, unique to the area and added significantly to my experience with loved ones.

If you need another reason to decrease added sugars in your diet, consider this: a recent study showed that decreasing added sugar intake from 28% of calories to 10% resulted in improved blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and blood sugar levels in as few as nine days.

Again, best wishes for a strong finish!

it’s my jam

Not really.  It’s Joy Bauer’s Cherry-Chia Jam!


For our 30-day ‘No-Added-Sugar’ Challenge, jams and jellies are all OUT because they’re loaded with sugar.  Bummer.  Neither Andrew nor I are big PB&J eaters (not because they aren’t delicious, they’re just not the healthiest choices and we tend to gravitate to leftovers for lunches), but I do like jam on bread or atop oatmeal, etc.

However, when I saw this recipe come across Facebook, I knew I had to try it.  I actually have a friend who joined in the challenge who was really going to miss his daily PB&J sandwich, so I was hoping this would be a winner.

Verdict: Success!

The result was a fresh, fruity gel that was perfect on a slice of toasted Ezekiel bread this morning, and I think it would be even better with some nut butter!  My chia seeds didn’t change their texture very much (I expected them to swell and become translucent, like chia puddings), but they achieved the gel-like consistency the jam needed.

For this batch, I used mostly frozen cherries with a few frozen strawberry and blueberry stragglers and fresh pineapple.  I was able to mash it all pretty well, so I didn’t remove any chunks of pineapple like Joy instructs in the recipe. I can imagine this jam with other fruits, like strawberries or apricots.  It was so easy to make, I may start adding this into the rotation as we finish off the jams and jellies we already have at home.

Also, while searching for Joy’s link, I came across this site with a VERY similar recipe. Jessica and Stacie are Registered Dietitians and expound on the health benefits of chia seeds in their post. Be sure to check out their site!

*Note: This is one of those items that flirts with the line between no sugar and ‘added sugar’ since it’s high in NATURAL sugar–basically the very sweet pineapple is contributing natural sugar to the flavor.  My no-added-sugar banana bread is also guilty of this, although it’s not very sweet. On the one hand, sugar is sugar is sugar; on the other, it’s natural sugar and doesn’t tend to be as sweet, so it helps to decrease a person’s dependence on sugar.



no-added-sugar banana bread, three ways

This post was originally going to be about a no-added-sugar banana bread recipe I found almost two years ago and have been making ever since.  However, I recently found another recipe for no-sugar-added banana bread that looked intriguing, so I gave that one a try. Turns out the first one had great flavor and the second had a better texture, so I melded them together to create my own!

I mentioned the first no-added-sugar banana bread recipe here back in January and planned to post about it soon after.  Well, February has come and gone and we’re halfway through March and I’m just now getting to it. Sheesh.

(This is also NOT to be confused with the ‘made-over’ Martha Stewart banana bread recipe posted here.  Absolutely fabulous, but it does include sugar.)

Clearly, I’m into banana bread.  Or I just buy too many and have to find something to do with all my too-ripe bananas…

First, my recipe:


1 cup AP flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tablespoon flaxseed meal

6 bananas, very ripe and preferably thawed from frozen (approximately 2 – 2 1/2 cups)

2 eggs

6 tablespoons melted coconut oil or light olive oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Mash bananas and mix with beaten eggs, oil and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients and add to wet, mixing until just combined. Fold in walnuts and coconut, if using.

Using an ice cream scoop, portion into muffin tin and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Check out the height on this one!  And that nicely browned, domed top!  Sugar helps things brown, which is why sugar-free baked products don’t always look the same as those with sugar.


I was pleasantly surprised to find the inside had a very nice crumb as well, not too dense or rubbery like many ‘healthy’ baked goods. Again, sugar helps baked products achieve the right texture, so omitting it can lead to all sorts of baking fails.


I like my banana bread with ‘stuff’ in it, so I tend to add walnuts for sure and dried fruit or chocolate chips if I’m feeling fancy.  You certainly don’t have to add anything if you don’t want to.  I’ve also experimented with how much or little I mash the bananas and found I prefer mine with small chunks of banana. I’ve been adding shredded coconut ever since I tried Martha Stewart’s recipe (linked above) and haven’t looked back.  It adds excellent flavor and texture.

This was the first time I experimented with the two recipes and am very pleased. I think I might still experiment with some of the spices, as I like a really cinnamon-y bread.  I’m considering using more cinnamon, or substituting pumpkin or apple pie spice to achieve that flavor.

I split the flours to achieve a better texture and kept the increased bananas for added sweetness and liquid.  I’m not against a little fat in my bread, so I kept the oil from recipe two as well for good texture and flavor. I also like flaxseed meal for it’s health benefits (a great fat source!) and texture, so I kept that from recipe one.

And, for completeness, here are the two recipes that inspired my recipe with my recent photos.

Recipe one:


Like I said, I’ve been making it with pretty good results for a while now, but always felt the muffins turned out a bit dense.  This recipe includes whole wheat flour, a flax egg instead of a real egg and four bananas. Photo below:


Verdict: Compared to the other two recipes, this one looks, feels and tastes like a ‘healthy’ muffin.  But, I didn’t know any better and kept baking them because they were easy, tasted good and turned out relatively well. However, the muffins never really baked up high with domed tops and were susceptible to bad batches that turned out heavy.

Recipe two:


After seeing her photos, I was very excited to try it.  Check out the browned tops and height below!  Elle’s recipe includes regular all-purpose flour, two eggs and more bananas than the other recipe.



Verdict: A great product, but left me a little wanting on the flavor side.  I wanted more heft and heartiness without the density of the first recipe.

Honestly, both of the above recipes are winners.  I was shocked at how well the first recipe turned out, so I’m even more thrilled that others are experimenting with healthier baking that highlights the natural flavors of foods without sacrificing healthy fat and a pleasing texture.

And speaking of no-added-sugar…I bet you can guess what Andrew and I will be giving up in April!  More on that soon!