Recipe Diets: The Great Muffin Debate

This is the second, in a 4-part series, on how to put your favorite recipes on a diet, making them healthier and just as delicious in the process! Click here to read Part I, which includes some of my general “diet” recommendations.

Last week, after I shared my recipe diet tips for Shrimp ‘N Grits, I got an email from a friend asking the following:

These muffins were handed out at the finish of the Les Boise Trail Run. They rocked! Any ideas how to lighten them up?

Below follows the ingredients list for the delicious Les Boise muffins by Cinda Jensen:

Les Bois Trail Run Muffins

  • 2 cup chopped apples or applesauce
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon

At first glance, I thought this muffin recipe looked reasonably “healthy” – a little heavy on the sugar, but not too high in fat (@36 muffins, my guess was about 5 gram of saturated fat/muffin, if using a partially hydrogenated vegetable oil). I might use a monounsaturated fat like canola as a healthier alternative. The two cups of apples or applesauce will help sweeten these muffins naturally.

For comparison, I looked up one of my all time favorite muffin recipes – The Morning Glory Muffin. Years ago when I was still in college, I worked on lovely Nantucket Island and lived off these muffins, thus explaining why I was 30 pounds overweight.

Chef Pam McKinstry created these muffins in 1978 and the recipe was first published in Gourmet Magazine in 1981. In 1991, it was chosen as one of the magazine’s 25 favorite recipes from the past 50 years. The ingredients list looks like:

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1 large apple, peeled and grated
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

As you can see, the recipe calls for a bit less sugar than the previous recipe (likely offset by the sweetness of the coconut and apple) but twice the oil. Though they might not taste quite as scrumptious with less oil, I’d give it a shot. There are too many other delicious, wholesome ingredients.

Lastly, I have to include the ingredients for one my personal favorites – Ina Garten’s Tri-berry Muffins. The complete recipe can be found in her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa at Home (or by clicking here).

The ingredients lay out as follows:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 2 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • ½ cup fresh raspberries
  • ½ cup diced fresh strawberries
  • 1 ½ cups sugar

It’s no great surprise that a delectable Ina Garten recipe contains a pound of butter, so you might want to save these for a special occasion (either that or make sure you only eat one!). Butter is a “less healthy” fat that is high in cholesterol, so bear this fact in mind. If you want to put this recipe on a diet, I might use less butter or substitute the butter with canola oil.

The moral to the story? Keep on running so you can enjoy one of these yummy recipes — and even consider less oil or butter to trim back the fat and calories even further. You can always substitute some of the sugar with all natural and sweet fruits!

Melinda Hinson