Can you be healthy AND enjoy treats?

Hands up if you’ve eaten something chocolatey in the past month then felt bad about it? You can drop the guilt, says naturopathic nutritionist Reece Carter – the occasional treat is absolutely fine, and doesn’t make you unhealthy. Reassuringly, he says, healthy eating doesn’t mean being ‘good’ 100 per cent of the time.

“The reason to keep a few treats in your diet really is this simple: because they’re yummy, you’ll enjoy them and you’re more likely to stick to a healthy eating pattern if it doesn’t feel overly restrictive,” he says. “Rather than deny yourself up until the point where you snap, binge and feel bad about it, just have a treat and move on. A single, healthy sweet treat here and there won’t undo all the benefits of a mostly nutritious wholefood diet.”

While eating a balanced diet that contains foods such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains, lean meat and dairy is essential for good nutrition, the key word is ‘balance’, Carter says.

“It’s important to learn to live by the philosophy that no single food is entirely ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us,” he explains. “Healthy eating is all about balancing the needs of our body, and sometimes that might actually mean having a treat for the sole purpose of pleasure. Most importantly, don’t feel any guilt over it. Eat it, enjoy it, then make a healthy choice for your next meal.”

Speaking of balance, here’s a healthy recipe that will settle the sweet tooth without the 3pm slump!

Spa Society March 20

Choc-hazelnut energy bars

Spa Society March 20

Base

60g hazelnuts
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut
Pinch of sea salt
⅔ cup (170ml) melted coconut oil (about 125g solid)
½ cup rice malt syrup
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon boiling water

Topping

60g dark (70% cocoa) chocolate
1 teaspoon coconut oil

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Line a 20cm x 20cm baking tin with baking paper.

2. Spread the hazelnuts on another baking tray and toast for 8 minutes. Leave to cool before roughly chopping into pieces and placing to one side.

3. Meanwhile, take half the oats and process in a blender or food processor until fine and flourlike. Place in a bowl, add the remaining rolled oats and combine. Add the hazelnuts, shredded coconut and salt. Stir to combine.

4. Pour the coconut oil over the dry ingredients, then add the rice malt syrup and vanilla. Mix well.

5. In a mug, combine the bicarbonate of soda and boiling water and mix together – it will bubble up – then pour evenly over the oat mixture.

6. Give everything another good mix. It’s important to combine everything really well.

7. Pour into the prepared tin, then use a metal spoon to spread the mixture evenly and fatten it down. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

8. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Cool and slice.

9. For the topping, in a double boiler, melt the chocolate and coconut oil. Stir until combined, then drizzle over the oat bars to decorate.

10. Transfer the bars to a sealed container until ready to enjoy. They’re best eaten within 3-5 days.

An extract from ‘The Garden Apothecary: The Happy Gut’ by Reece Carter, $39.99, available from all good book stores.

This recipes makes 8 serves.