Chef Akhtar Nawab shares the sugar-slashing tips he learned along his personal health journey.
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Akhtar Nawab is the owner and chef of Indie Fresh, a fast-casual restaurant in New York City that makes broth, soups, protein bowls, paleo burgers, shakes, and fresh-pressed juices. Everything on the menu is free of gluten and dairy, but still manages to pack major flavor.

At Cooking Light’s 30th Anniversary celebration, which was sponsored by Chobani and held at the Museum of Food & Drink in Brooklyn, we asked Chef Nawab how he maximizes flavor of healthy food while dialing back on sugar. Here are his tips.

You Don't Have to Give Up Your Favorite Treats

Even though grandma’s carrot cake might have more calories or sugar than you’re comfortable with, you can modify the recipe to suit your needs. Nawab says, “At Indie Fresh, we start with the full-fat recipe and start taking things away and removing things that are unnecessary. Then, we have the essence of the recipe and we build on those flavors.

Get Creative with Substitutions

Nawab says he was recently developing a recipe for pumpkin pancakes, but his nutritionist said that they had too much natural sugar from the pumpkin. So he subbed out some of the pumpkin for a teaspoon of cashew puree to make it fit his nutrition guidelines. Other creative sugar substitutions could be honey, unsweetened apple sauce, or pureed dates.

Focus on Whole Foods

If you're cooking with chicken, let it be the star of the dish. Don't add marinades and sauces that could add excess sugar when you can make your own spice rub or use citrus to brighten up the flavor profile. Sticking to a diet made of whole, unprocessed ingredients like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats should also naturally reduce your sugar intake.

Be a Food Nerd

Food science can play a major role in subbing out ingredients. Nawab admits, "A lot of it is food knowledge, like adding apple cider vinegar to baking soda to keep pancakes fluffier, longer, or adding flax seeds to emulate a full-dairy pancake." Don't get discouraged if you're not a professional chef, though: We have guides for butter and fat substitutions, milk substitutions, and sugar substitutions that'll help you make the right choice for your meals.