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“High Protein Bran Muffin”–A good idea gone bad?

This is what’s wrong with American thinking today:

  1. That muffins are healthy, or as in the example below, “healthful”
  2. That bran muffins are really healthy and therefore can be eaten big
  3. That such healthy muffins should be eaten as a source of protein.
  4. That muffins this perfect can and perhaps even should be eaten as a substitute for meals.

Exhibit A, from a recent “Culinary SOS” recipe request column of the LA Times Food Section.

Dear SOS: Have you ever tasted the muffins at —–‘s Bakery? They are huge, delicious, healthful and so satisfying. There is a particular favorite of mine, a high protein muffin that, when eaten, makes one glow inside and feel healthy all day…
–Shirley

Dear Shirley: These generously sized muffins pack a medley of flavors and textures in every bite. A batch’ll go quickly — they make for a fun, quick breakfast or perfect snack.

Well. Can’t wait. Let’s take a look at the ingredients list as given in SOS.

High protein muffin
Total time: 45 minutes plus cooling time  Makes 14 muffins

1 (12-ounce) can frozen apple or white grape fruit juice concentrate
2 1/4 cups wheat bran
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) flour
3 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup flaxseeds
1/2 cup coconut
1 1/2 cups granola
2 cups raisins

I’ll skip the instructions–they’re involved and painful. All I’ll say is, the  recipe involves boiling down Ingredient #1 (and wasn’t that a shock in a health muffin recipe) and still throwing some of it out.

Now the nutrition. I have to say I’m tempted to use the ingredient list as a small practical quiz to see if anyone can ballpark the calories, fat, carbs and sodium per serving from it. Anyone? Anyone? No? OK, then. Fasten your seatbelt. Or perhaps just your belt.

Each muffin: 515 calories; 11 grams protein; 54 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams fiber; 32 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 62 mg. cholesterol; 742 mg. sodium.

Now wait a minute. 500+ calories? for a muffin? 700+ mg sodium? 32 g fat? For that much fat and salt you could eat a chunk of cheddar almost the size of a deck of cards. Straight.

Anyway, this is clearly one overloaded muffin, with tons of expensive extras. Heavy too–or why the 7 teaspoons of leavening for a single batch? And the irony is, after all that stuff, it still only delivers 11 g protein per muffin. You could get that with a large glass of skim milk.

But you know what’s really sad about this muffin recipe? It’s not alone. Even the classic Weight Watchers Cookbook recipe for bran muffins still weighs in at 300-plus calories per and 500-plus mg. sodium.

What gives? Should we simply not eat muffins? Can a bran muffin recipe ever be actually delicious AND low-fat, low-salt, moderate-carb, and perhaps, dare we dream it, less than 200 calories per, so you don’t feel stupid not having asked for something a little more actively delicious for the same calories–maybe a croissant or a slice of flourless chocolate cake instead? With, obviously, raspberry coulis?

How would you go about it? Maybe it would be better to go with something like the cake-style gingerbread recipe in the Silver Palate Cookbook–makes 12 servings with a lot less starch (1 2/3 c. flour), no nuts and seeds and extras, only one egg, only 1 1/4 t. baking soda, a bunch of gingerbread spices, 1/2 c. oil you can skip in favor of applesauce with no problems at all and a huge cut in calories, half a cup each of sugar and molasses or honey, some boiling water right before baking, and that’s pretty much it. You can even microwave it for about 5-7 minutes at half power instead of baking it conventionally.

Now granted, it’s not bran–but it could be at least whole wheat without ruining the aesthetic. It’s not 500 calories a square either–by my reckoning more like 120 in the applesauce version, and something like 150-200 mg sodium. And no one expects it to substitute in for a meal’s worth of fiber and protein, but with raisins and whole wheat flour, it would probably have 4-5 g fiber and you could always serve it with skim milk.

If you’ve convinced yourself that nothing but a “high-protein” muffin will do, and simply drinking some milk with it isn’t glamorous enough, throw in a packet of nonfat powdered dry milk. But really, unless it’s your only meal of the day, you don’t actually need the added protein. Muffins weren’t made to be steak.

Finally, why make huge muffins? Unless you want to end up looking like a Mack Truck, make decent medium-sized or cupcake-sized muffins, and if you’re still hungry afterward, eat an apple. And drink a glass of milk.

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