Live sweetly, without all the sugar

Sometimes I get a hankering for something sweet. Usually chocolate. Just a short walk from my desk is a vending machine, but I know that excess sugar consumption is linked to all sorts of conditions — diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, fatigue, depression and autoimmune disease.

As I’m trying to improve my health and eat better this month, I can resist the call of the vending machine because I discovered “Cut the Sugar: You’re Sweet enough Cookbook” by Ella Leche.

Leche began having health problems and eventually was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular autoimmune disease call myasthenia gravis. It’s a chronic disease that causes weakness of the muscles and there’s no cure for it.

Leche, however, tackled her condition head-on. Accustomed to a diet of meat, wheat, dairy, eggs and sugar, she decided to make some big changes, focusing on lots of plants and eliminating refined sugar. “Now I can happily say that my life is back to normal,” she writes in the introduction of her book.

I find Leche’s story inspiring, and her recipes look healthy and delicious. Among the pages, I found an easy-to-prepare snack that I can bring to work and never again be tempted to visit the vending machine.

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RAW CRANBERRY-CHOCOLATE PROTEIN BALLS

1 ½ cups raw walnuts

1 cup raw pecans

½ cup naturally sweetened dried cranberries

5 Medjool dates, pitted

¼ cup raw cacao powder

1 to 2 tablespoons chocolate or vanilla protein powder

1 to 2 teaspoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 drops liquid stevia

Process all of the ingredients in a food processor until a dough forms.

Turn off the food processor, remove the blade and roll a teaspoon of the dough in the palms of your hands into a ball. Repeat with all the dough. That’s it! Enjoy between meals or after a workout. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Our assessment: These protein balls are a snap to make. My colleague Michelle Fong tried them and said they taste similar to pricey nutty-chocolate protein bars.

They’re full of healthy fats from the nuts and cocoa, and the protein powder is satisfying and stops the craving for more sweets.

From the book: “Cut the Sugar: You’re Sweet Enough Cookbook” by Ella Leche; 212 pages, $24.99. Published by Andrew McMell Publishing, 2015.

What you get: This collection features a wide assortment of creative recipes: Tex-Mex Quinoa-Sweet Potato Boats to Creamy Avocado Cucumber Rolls to Chickpea Crepes with Smashed Chickpea Filling to Cinnamon-Rooibos Cake. The desserts and sweet snacks are made with natural forms of sugar, so if you have a sweet tooth, you’ll find lots of options to choose from.

In her own words: “My focus is on fresh vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, healthy proteins, and low-glycemic whole grains and carbohydrates. Most of all, these recipes are all free of refined sugar and use the best natural sweeteners that are more nourishing to your health. … My food philosophy is about enjoying delicious, nourishing foods and not feeling deprived. Experiencing the power of nourishing food firsthand is so inspiring. When you eat well, you feel well. Simple as that.”

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