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Dispelling the ‘Low-Fat is Healthy’ Myth with Muffins

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Low fat diets are no better for health than moderate or high-fat diets — and may even be worse for some, according to a new report from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Harvard researchers joined forced with chefs and registered dieticians at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to create five new muffin recipes that were based in healthy fats and whole grains, with lowered amounts of salt and sugar.

CIA’s primary goal was to show that the low-fat muffin is in fact unhealthier, due to having reduced amounts of good fats, such as liquid plant oils, which are conducive to a healthy heart. Low-fat muffins also contain harmful carbohydrates from its sugar and flour ingredients.

Nutrition specialists also wanted to establish that fat intake should be of a higher priority than portion control, for maintaining for good health. In fact, researchers suggest being leery of all low-fat foods, as they are all high in sugar and carbohydrates, which heavy amounts can potentially lead to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition for the Harvard School of Public Health, said “It’s time to end the low-fat myth. Unfortunately, many well motivated people and been led to believe that all fats are bad and that foods loaded with white flour and sugar are healthy choices.”

“This has clearly contributed to the epidemic of diabetes we are experiencing and premature death for many. The lesson contain in these healthy muffins-that foods can be both tasty and good for you, can literally be life saving”, he said.

The new muffins created by the CIA are smaller than regular muffins at U.S. coffee chains, and contain about 130 calories. Regular muffins typically hold 450 calories which primarily come from its white flour and sugar content.

Many chains have stopped using trans fat increase the muffins heart health fat ingredient. A low fat muffin has the same amount of calories, than a high fat muffin, but contain more sugar and carbohydrates, and about 60 percent more sodium.

“There are so many ingredients available to home bakers who want to offer their families healthful, flavorful baked goods,” said Richard Coppedge, Jr., chef-instructor at the CIA, and a Certified Master Baker. “These five recipes not only include a wide variety of whole grain and nut flours; they also demonstrate how more unusual ingredients like canned chickpeas and extra virgin olive oil can be used in baking,” he explained.

The CIA and HSPH have joined together to create a list of healthy baking tips that all cooks, whether amateur of professionals can use and add to their repertoire. Here are a few:

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