A Muffin Makeover: Dispelling the Low-Fat-Is-Healthy Myth

Filed under: Bites & Bits , Author: Caron Golden , August 11, 2012

A Muffin Makeover: Dispelling the Low-Fat-Is-Healthy Myth

Dozens of studies, many from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers, have shown that low-fat diets are no better for health than moderate- or high-fat diets—and for many people, may be worse.

To combat this “low-fat is best” myth, nutrition experts at HSPH and chefs and registered dietitians at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) have developed five new muffin recipes that incorporate healthy fats and whole grains, and use a lighter hand on the salt and sugar. Their goal? To “make over” the ubiquitous low-fat muffin, touted as a "better-for-you" choice when in fact low-fat muffins often have reduced amounts of heart-healthy fats, such as liquid plant oils, but boast plenty of harmful carbohydrates in the form of white flour and sugar.

Other low-fat processed foods are not much better, and are often higher in sugar, carbohydrates, or salt than their full-fat counterparts. For good health, type of fat matters more than amount. Diets high in heavily processed carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

See recipes for Blueberry Muffins, Cranberry Orange Muffins, Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Muffins, Lemon Chickpea Breakfast Muffins, and Whole Wheat Banana Nut Muffins.

The CIA and HSPH offer a dozen healthy baking tips that professional chefs and home cooks can use to build a healthier muffin. Here are a few of their tips:

• Downsize the portions. The mega-muffins popular in bake shops are two to three times the size of the muffins your grandmother might have baked.

• Go whole on the grains. It’s easy to substitute whole wheat flour for 50% of the white flour in recipes without harming taste or texture. And with a few recipe alterations, delicious muffins can be made with 100% whole grains. See the Lemon Chickpea Breakfast Muffin and the Whole Wheat Banana Nut Muffin recipes as examples.

• Slash the sugar. You can cut 25% of the sugar from most standard muffin recipes without any negative impact on flavor or texture, and in some recipes, cut back even more.

The inclusion of beans in the Lemon Chickpea Muffin recipe from the CIA and the Harvard School of Public Health not only add protein and fiber, but they also help to keep it moist and tender. Photo: CIA/Keith Ferris

• Pour on the oil. Liquid plant oils—canola, extra virgin olive oil, corn, sunflower, and others—help keep whole-grain muffins moist and are a healthier choice than melted butter or shortening.

• Bring out the nuts. For extra protein and an additional source of healthy fats, add chopped nuts.

• Scale back the salt. The best way to reduce salt is to make a smaller muffin and to pair muffins with foods, such as vegetables and fruits, that are sodium-free.

• Pump up the produce—and flavor! Fresh whole fruit and unsweetened dried fruit naturally contain sugar, but unlike other sweeteners, they also contain fiber and important nutrients. Using fruit in your muffins means you can have a lighter hand on the added sugar. Cooked or raw vegetables, such as caramelized onions, sliced jalapeños, and chives and other fresh herbs—together with a whole range of spices—can add interesting textures and savory flavors to muffins.

 

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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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