The last Food is Medicine class at the Dempsey Center began with dessert. My kind of class! Seeds are the major ingredients in this recipe for Triple Triple Brittle, so it offers a healthy dose of fiber. And maybe not quite so healthy — you’ll also get a bit of sugar because it calls for 1/3 cup of maple syrup.

Here’s what Judy Donnelly, who taught the class, had to say about sugar. She told us that we should try to avoid creating what she called a “high sugar environment.” The way you do that is by maintaining blood sugar in a healthy range.

Judy is a registered dietitian and coordinator of the nutrition program at the Dempsey Centers in Lewiston and South Portland (ME). While her primary focus is on helping people with cancer, her nutrition advice is beneficial for anyone who is trying to eat a healthy diet.

High blood sugar is associated with inflammation and obesity, and these increase the risk for cancer and chronic disease. Avoid excessive intake of foods that tend to contribute to excess sugar in the blood stream — refined carbohydrates, like crackers, white breads, big portions of pasta, rice, cookies, cakes, ice cream, etc. There is no evidence that complete elimination of refined sugars or carbohydrates of any kind will reduce risk of chronic disease or cancer, but certainly excess intake can result in a high sugar environment and thus impact risk. We do recommend that when using sugar, it may be better to use natural sources, like maple syrup and honey as they do have some nutritional benefits, but excessive intake of these will still contribute to high blood sugar.  

Judy Donnelly, RDN
Dempsey Centers for Quality Cancer Care

Triple Triple Brittle

I hope this isn’t considered too excessive, but I made a second batch of the brittle this past weekend. It wasn’t the maple syrup that caused my life to overflow with sweetness, though, it was because I made the brittle with my granddaughter. She’s going to show you how easy it is to make some of your own.

Original recipe source: The Healthy Mind Cookbook, Rebecca Katz.


  • 1 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup white or black sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup Grade A Dark Amber maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds.

We need a whisk to stir them all up, Nana!

Add the cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt.

Yes, all of the maple syrup needs to go into the bowl, not in your mouth.

It may be hard to resist a little taste! Don’t forget to add the vanilla to the bowl.

Mix everything until well coated. Spoon the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and, with a spatula or a piece of parchment paper, pat and press the brittle onto an even layer about 1/8 inch thick. You could also use a rolling pin or a bottle.

Or use your hands! Press out the middle so it’s slightly thinner than the edges, which will help prevent the outside edges from burning.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. As it cools it will become crispy. Once the brittle has crisped up, break into pieces.

Mmmm, this is good, Nana. We’re good cooks together.

Strategies for cutting back on sugar

If you think you need to cut back on the amount of sugar you’ve been eating, Judy says there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. She has a few suggestions that have worked for other people.

  • Focus on eating healthier snacks. Pack some to take to work or have them prepped and ready at home. If healthy foods are ready to eat, they are much more likely to be eaten.
  • Give yourself permission to include something sweet in a very small amount each day. That might be a better strategy psychologically rather than focusing on not having any more sugar — because what are you going to end up thinking about? Not having any more sugar!
  • Go cold turkey. Some people do it and find that their craving eventually diminishes.

Check out the Dempsey Center’s website to learn about all of the wonderful services, support groups, programs, and cooking classes they have to offer.