Sugar- and dairy-free desserts

I am a paleo chef. In a nutshell, that means I follow a nutritious, ethical, energetic, traditional lifestyle based on an understanding and respect for evolutionary science. My family and I have eaten this way for the past three years and we are absolutely thriving in every sense of the word.

What do we eat? Fresh, seasonal, local, organic if possible, fibrous vegetables; a balanced amount of ethically raised organic, free-range, 100 per cent grass-fed animals and eggs; wild-caught, sustainable fish; herbs, spices, nuts and seeds; and a balanced amount of fruit, especially organic berries and kiwifruit.

My partner Nic and I found this amazing yet deliciously simple lifestyle through nutritional therapist and neurofeedback practitioner, Nora Gedgaudas. She wrote an outstanding book called Primal Body, Primal Mind and, through her work, has saved and enhanced the lives of many, many people around the world, including ours.

How do desserts fit into this picture? Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of desserts. I’m almost always inclined to choose an extra serving of vegies instead of indulging in an insulin-spiking pud! In saying that, there is the odd special occasion when I’m happy to share a dessert with my family.

So that we can enjoy a sweet treat without being concerned about the side-effects of consuming unhealthy ingredients, my team and I have spent the past few years experimenting and reworking many traditional desserts and also creating a number of new exciting ones. Due to our paleo-inspired lifestyle, we’ve not only developed cane sugar- and dairy-free desserts, but we’ve made them gluten-, wheat-, soy- and grain-free as well. Are they what I call truly healthy? No, but they are a darn sight better than most of the widely available sweet offerings that I believe are poisoning humanity on a daily basis.

Why all the fuss about eliminating these ingredients? Let’s begin with our old foe, sugar. Thanks to many health crusaders throughout the world and right here in our own backyard, it’s now no secret that sugar — or, rather, predominantly the fructose in sugar — is a nightmare when it comes to our mental and physical health.

Frankly, there’s a lot of bad news surrounding sugar and perhaps one of the most alarming is the fact that sugar/fructose is thought to have a cumulative effect. This means that adhering to the old maxim “everything in moderation” as a justification to down that sticky date pudding or pavlova, without worrying about the consequences, doesn’t fly any more. Sugar’s debilitating effects build up in our systems. More and more reputable, unbiased, scientific research is revealing that sugar is a very real killer. It is one of the main culprits behind chronic disease like obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes; it feeds cancerous cells; and it lines the pockets of the powers-that-be.

Sugar is a highly addictive, processed product and the more we eat it, the more we want it. Believe it or not, many food manufacturers exploit our addiction to sugar by adding it to products such as sauces, cereals, mueslis, breads, stocks, spices and even soups. Sugar is also added to cleverly marketed “low-fat” products such as skim milk and yoghurt: because the process that removes the fat also removes the flavour, they replace it with fat-forming sugar.

Sadly, many people are deeply opposed to escaping the tight grasp of sugar. Perhaps the most worrying reality of all, however, is that we feed it to our children — all too often in the form of a reward — which means we’re mindlessly, unintentionally, burdening our youth with addiction, disease and illness. This is something that’s very close to my heart.

I’m fortunate to be the father of two extraordinary young girls and, in many ways, Nic’s and my responsibility to raise Chilli and Indii with as much enlightenment as possible was a huge motivator to start our never-ending search for health and wellness. Nic and I are conscious that we need to be nourishing the girls at every meal or snack time, and filling their bodies and brains with nutritionally dense foods that permit them to genuinely thrive. Sugar, gluten, wheat, grains, soy and dairy are not on the menu in our home, ever.

Please don’t be disheartened by these blunt, confronting facts. There is good news here: you can take responsibility for your health and your family’s health and quit sugar. It can take a good month or two and sometimes even longer to break free of its bitter-sweet grip, but once you do you will rejoice in renewed physical and mental health. As long as you’re also enjoying fulfilling relationships, balanced exercise and a passion for your job, you will absolutely flourish!

So learn to read labels and be wary of products with high sugar content. These also include high-fructose fruit, dried fruit, honey, agave syrup and fruit juices, as they all contain high amounts of fructose and can easily send you back down the path of sugar addiction. Watch out for artificial sweeteners, too. I have nothing positive to say about them and I would avoid them at all costs.

Next on the list of ingredients I choose to eliminate is dairy. Dairy isn’t on my menu because I’m seriously lactose-intolerant and Nic, Chilli and Indii react negatively to the proteins in dairy. As a result, it causes undesirable side-effects and lowers our immune systems, so we choose not to include it in our diets. The reality is that most people, especially after childhood, don’t retain the ability to digest dairy well and I must say that, for health and ethical reasons, my gut feeling is that cow, goat and sheep milk should be consumed by the babies it was intended for.

As to how dairy affects your health, that’s up to you to determine. Just be aware that some common side-effects of dairy intolerance are cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, nausea, acne, headaches, constipation, asthma, skin rashes and nasal congestion, to name a few. Also, symptoms of dairy intolerance can be silent. To find out whether or not consuming dairy is detrimental to your health, it’s important to discuss various testing options with your trusted healthcare practitioner. If you do decide to consume dairy, it’s best to choose minimally processed, full-fat, organic, free-range dairy products from ethically raised, 100 per cent grass-fed animals.

OK, on to my next favourite topic: wheat, gluten and grains. Irrespective of whether I was gluten- or wheat-intolerant, I would not choose to consume or feed my family any form of these so-called foods. This is because: a) there’s an abundance of respected science that suggests we’re simply not evolved to digest them, b) grains today are nothing like the grains of yesterday and c) farming wheat and other grains, in the way it’s currently done, is not sustainable for our planet. Research is being released regularly into how these substances are destroying our planet and our health, and playing a major role in causing and worsening chronic disease, especially neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and depression.

But don’t trust me on any of these three areas. Look for answers from the highly respected, trail-blazing experts who are dedicated to finding the solutions to how to live an optimal, ethical life. I believe consciousness is everything. It’s one of our greatest human responsibilities to keep an open mind and to continuously seek to empower ourselves and our families with life- and planet-saving knowledge.

Strawberry Panna Cotta

Serves: 4

Panna cotta

450mL coconut cream
½ vanilla bean, split lengthways & seeds scraped
80g honey
1½ tsp grass-fed gelatin powder
2 tbsp filtered water
320mL strawberry jelly, melted (see recipe below)
10 strawberries, cut into quarters, to serve
Activated pistachio nuts, chopped, to serve 

Apple balsamic glaze

200mL balsamic vinegar
100g raw honey
1 green apple, chopped 

Strawberry jelly

500g strawberries
500mL water
190g honey
1 lemon, juiced
1 tbsp grass-fed gelatin powder 

To make the panna cotta, place the coconut cream, honey and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat, stir to dissolve the honey and bring to the boil. Remove from heat.

Place the water in
a small cup, sprinkle in the gelatin and soak for 2 minutes. Pour the gelatin mixture into the saucepan of hot cream and whisk until dissolved. Strain and cool the mix to room temperature to thicken the panna cotta. Set aside.

To make the balsamic glaze, place the balsamic vinegar, honey and apple in a saucepan, whisk to combine and bring to the boil over medium heat. Reduce the mixture by more than half, or until a thick syrup forms (yields approximately 120mL). Remove from the heat, cool completely and strain. Set aside until needed. (See note below).

To make the strawberry jelly, place the strawberries, water, honey and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Strain.

Place 3 tablespoons of water into
a small cup, sprinkle in the gelatin and soak for 2 minutes. Pour the gelatin mixture into the strawberry mixture and stir until dissolved. Allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until set.

To assemble, pour 80mL of strawberry jelly into four glasses. Carefully transfer the glasses to the refrigerator and set for 2 hours, or until firm.

Once the jelly has set, pour the cooled panna cotta mixture into the glasses. Return to the refrigerator to set for a further 4 hours or until slightly firm and wobbly.

Top the panna cottas with fresh strawberries, then drizzle with balsamic glaze and finish with chopped pistachios and micro mint.

Note: You can store the remaining balsamic glaze sealed in a jar for up to 3 months. This glaze is also great for salads, chicken and other savoury dishes.

Chococado Mousse with Cherries

Serves: 4

2 ripe avocados, peeled & pitted
40g cacao powder
2 tbsp raw honey
85g medjool dates, pitted & soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, then drained
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways & seeds scraped
8 cherries, to serve
Pistachios & toasted coconut shavings, to serve

Combine all ingredients for the mousse in a food processor and blend until smooth and fluffy.

Spoon the mousse mixture into four small glasses and top with toasted coconut shavings, cherries and pistachios, if desired.

Strawberry Bliss Balls

Makes: 18

8 medjool dates, pitted
¼ banana, chopped
1 cup walnuts
1 cup macadamia nuts
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
â…” cup chopped strawberries
3 tbsp chia seeds
½ cup dried, shredded coconut, plus extra for rolling 

Process the dates in the food processor until smooth. Add the banana, walnuts, macadamia nuts, coconut oil, strawberries, chia seeds and coconut. Pulse a few times until the mix just comes together and the nuts have broken down into a crumb-like consistency, but still with some texture.

Take a tablespoon of the mixture into your hands and roll into a walnut-size ball. Roll the ball in shredded coconut and set on a plate or a tray. Repeat until all the mixture has been formed into small balls. Refrigerate to set for 20 minutes before serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake

Serves: 6–8

450g raw cashews
320mL lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt
350g raw honey
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways & seeds scraped
220g coconut oil
Baby mint leaves (optional) 


160g almonds (activated if possible)
90g desiccated coconut
6 medjool dates, pitted
Pinch sea salt 

Lemon curd

80mL lemon juice
120g organic free-range eggs
90g honey
220g ghee or coconut oil 

Candied lemon & lime

1 lemon, sliced thinly
Zest of 2 limes, cut into thin strips
250mL water
300g raw honey 

Soak the cashews for 4 hours, then rinse well.

To make the lemon curd, put the lemon juice, eggs, honey and ghee or coconut oil in a bowl and whisk together until well combined. Place the bowl over a saucepan filled with simmering water and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 8 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat.

Strain the curd through a fine sieve. Allow to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for 1 hour to set before using.

To make the crumble, process the almonds and coconut in a food processor until broken up to a nice crumble. Add the dates and salt and pulse until the mixture just comes together. If you over-process, the mixture will become oily. set aside.

Process the cashews, lemon juice, salt, honey and vanilla seeds until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the coconut oil and process until combined. Pour the cheesecake mixture into small glasses and refrigerate for a few hours, or until set.

To make the candied lemon and lime, bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the lime zest and lemon slices, and blanch for a few seconds. Drain and cool under cold running water. Repeat this process twice more. Combine the water and the honey in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to combine. Add the blanched lime zest and lemon slices, reduce the heat and gently simmer until the limes become translucent, about 40 minutes. Allow to cool completely in the liquid.

To serve, top the cheesecakes with lemon curd, sprinkle with crumble mix, then garnish with candied lemon slices and lime zest.

Tip: If you prefer your lemon curd to be quite tart, simply add a touch more juice after cooking — you can easily adjust tartness and flavour to your liking. If you prefer it to be a little sweeter, add a little more honey to taste.\


Pete Evans is an Australian chef and the author of Going Paleo and Family Food. W:

Sugar- and dairy-free desserts

By: Pete Evans

Pete Evans shares four delicious sugar- and dairy-free dessert.


Prep time

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Pete Evans

Pete Evans

Pete Evans is an internationally renowned chef, restaurateur, author and TV presenter. His passion for food and a healthy lifestyle inspires individuals and families around the world. Pete is a certified health coach with qualifications from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and promotes the Paleo approach to heal the gut.

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