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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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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Music Training Has Biological Impact on Aging Process

Age-related delays in neural timing are not inevitable and can be avoided or offset with musical training, according to a new study from Northwestern University. The study is the first to provide biological evidence that lifelong musical experience has an impact on the aging process.

Measuring the automatic brain responses of younger and older musicians and non-musicians to speech sounds, researchers in the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory discovered that older musicians had a distinct neural timing advantage.

“The older musicians not only outperformed their older non-musician counterparts, they encoded the sound stimuli as quickly and accurately as the younger non-musicians,” said Northwestern neuroscientist Nina Kraus. “This reinforces the idea that how we actively experience sound over the course of our lives has a profound effect on how our nervous system functions.”

Previous studies from Kraus’ Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory suggest that musical training also offset losses in memory and difficulties hearing speech in noise — two common complaints of older adults.

The new study was published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.


A Popular East Indian Spicy Chicken Dish


2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil, divided
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 tbsp ginger (finely chopped)
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup regular, 2% or fat free evaporated milk
1/4 cup plain yogurt
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.
  2. Heat remaining oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute onion. garlic and ginger until soft and fragrant. Stir in butter, lemon juice and spices. Cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce, cooking for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in milk and yogurt. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add reserved chicken to sauce and bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes until sauce has thickened and chicken is cooked through.
  4. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Makes 4 servings


  • Serve with naan or over steamed rice.
  • Make this dish as mild or as spicy as you like by adjusting the amount of cayenne pepper.

Source: Canadian magazine

What’s for Breakfast?

Chinese Home-cooked Breakfast


  • Steamed Sticky Bun with Red Bean Filling (粘豆包)
  • Pickled Daikon
  • White Rice Congee