How to make a healthier muffin

by sophie on May 26, 2008 · 20 comments

Post image for How to make a healthier muffin
These are a few really easy ways to make any muffin recipe a little healthier.  Many of these are tweaks that won’t be detectable in the finished product. 

Add some wholegrain goodness
I love a proper muesli-fied bran muffin with carrots or apples in it and maybe a few sultanas or pumpkin seeds, but not every time – sometimes you just need an old-fashioned cake-style muffin.  Happily even the most refined muffin recipe can enjoy a bit of wholegrain goodness; all you do is swop out half of the quantity of white flour stated in the recipe for the same weight of wholewheat flour.  It’s unlikely that anybody will notice, but you can blame me if they do.

Fruit boost
Dried fruit is an easy addition to any muffin mix and can add valuable iron, fibre and calcium depending on your choice of fruit.  Fresh fruit adds fewer calories and natural sugars than the same weight of dried fruit, but a little less of those nutrients just mentioned.  Grating is the best method of incorporating larger, firmer fruits such as apples and pears, while small chunks work well for softer fruits.  Frozen berries work wonderfully as well as being economical; adding them while frozen keeps the fruit evenly distributed rather than sinking to the bottom of the muffin.

Healthy fats
The oil you buy in the UK labelled as vegetable oil is usually rapeseed oil (the same as Canola oil).  Like olive oil, rapeseed oil contains a little of each type of fat (monounsaturated, saturated and polyunsaturated fat), but is predominantly monounsaturated. This is much better for your heart than using butter, which I save for those areas of baking that just need real butter (and for on freshly baked bread, obviously!). 

It’s a no-brainer for clever folk like you to make sure that any milk or yogurt called for in the recipe is low-fat.

Frosting and icing
Most of the time my muffins remain topless, but just occasionally a bit of decoration is called for.  A quick, if slightly rustic looking topping is a very thin glaze of icing sugar flavoured with lemon, lime or orange juice.  This isn’t going to add many extra calories at all, though your dentist may not approve.   A far plusher topping is a frosting based on flavoured, low-fat cream cheese.  I frost or ice half of my muffins to share and leave half unadorned to eat later in the week or stash away in the freezer.  Any unfrosted homemade fruity muffins make a great “grab and go” portable breakfast, just take one out of the freezer the night before and it will be ready to eat first thing.

These tweaks should be suitable for experimenting on any muffin recipe of your choice.  I have also put all of the ideas together in one recipe for mango, lime and ginger muffins with a lime cream cheese frosting.

Garden at Chelsea flower show
(I couldn’t resist just one picture from my trip to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show on Friday.  There are many more on my Flickr photostream if any of you are horticulturally minded!).

Elsewhere on Mostly Eating
More inspiration for healthy baking, this time with vegetables – Butternut squash, oat and ginger cake bites
Five clever ideas for healthy recipe substitutions includes two baking tips

Muffins galore!
Muffin recipes elsewhere that use similar ideas
Wendy’s Moist Bran Muffins
Wholewheat Apple Muffins from Smitten Kitchen
Jamie Oliver’s Butternut Squash Muffins with a frosty top
Lemon Ginger Muffins from Elise
Kathryn’s Pear, Maple and Walnut Muffins

Recipe for Mango, lime and ginger muffins

I've left the quantities for the frosting deliberately vague so that you can adjust both flavour and quantity. I tend to just make enough to frost half of the muffins.
Makes 12 muffins

1 large mango, cut into small cubes
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup wholewheat flour
1 cup low fat yogurt
0.5 cup skimmed or semi-skimmed milk
0.5 cup unrefined demerara sugar
Juice from one lime
2 balls of stem ginger, chopped into very small pieces
1 medium egg
4 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp baking powder

Optional frosting
Mix to taste
Low fat cream cheese
Lime juice

Mix together both types of flour, the sugar and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.

In a second bowl mix the wet ingredients – the yogurt, milk, egg and vegetable oil.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. A few lumps are fine

Fold the mango and ginger pieces gently into the muffin mixture.

Spoon the muffin mixture out into paper cases in your muffin tray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 190C. An easy way to check if they are done is to stick a toothpick or skewer into the middle of one of the muffins and see if it comes away clean.

To make the frosting, whisk the three ingredients in a small bowl using a fork, adjusting to taste as you go.

Allow to cool on a wire tray, covering with the frosting if using


Christina May 26, 2008 at 15:26

Ok, the words healthier and muffins are magic to me. I’m a total muffin-fan, but the 400-500 calorie version just won’t do it. I can’t have my muffin-fix as often as I would like to. I’ll try this recipe.

Katerina May 26, 2008 at 17:46

Great post! Don’t forget about adding nuts, those can add good nutritional value too.

shauna May 26, 2008 at 20:54

Swoon! What a great combo of flavours… I have a mango sitting here on the coffee tables that’s begging to be muffinated :)

cookinpanda May 27, 2008 at 00:19

Great looking recipe– I love the combination of flavors. Also, wonderful tips on how to make healthier muffins!

kathryn May 27, 2008 at 09:29

Sophie – those muffins look so very good. Mango + lime + ginger, in a muffin. Genius.
And I like your tips. It clarifies a lot of the things I’ve been thinking, but haven’t actually verbalised. I didn’t make or eat muffins for ages – too much fat and sugar. But since I’ve been making my own, I’ve been reducing the sugar and fat and am still really happy with the results.
I also make mine smaller than the standard Australian size – which also limits the fat, kilojoules, etc you’re getting from one serve. While still providing a delicious, satisfying food.

Hippolyra May 27, 2008 at 22:40

Great post Sophie, I have been thinking about muffins too recently. I have been skipping the egg recently too, as it seems to make very little difference to the finished item.

Sophie May 28, 2008 at 21:48

Christina – that’s exactly what I was thinking! Make the muffins a bit healthier then you can have more of them ;-)
Katerina – nuts is a great idea. I’m not sure how I forgot them as my favourite muffin recipe ever has macadamia nuts in it
Shauna – definitely muffinate it! The good thing about this recipe is that it will also disguise a slightly below par mango, esp those ones that never seem to get ripe
cookinpanda – glad you liked the tips!
Kathryn – I was thinking along the same lines as you, as usual. Shop bought muffins over here are always so massive and so sugary. It’s nutritionally much better to make your own but also they are so simple to make. Muffins have to be the most forgiving area of baking too
Hi Hippolyra – thanks for the tip, I might try missing the egg out next time and see how they turn out. I’ve made vegan muffins before without any eggs in them so I’m sure you’re right!

Mar May 29, 2008 at 01:57

I’m a bit of a muffin fiend (there are three different kinds of muffins studding my freezer right now, “nutritious muffins,” banana-carrot oat muffins, and soda bread muffins (which aren’t REALLY muffins, but I made them yesterday for the second time and they’re tasty).
In the fall, apple oat muffins overflow the freezer. They’re my favorite. I like oats.
But now next time I see a mango, I’ll have to try your muffins!

kathryn May 29, 2008 at 03:06

“Forgiving” – that’s my kind of baking.

Hippolyra May 29, 2008 at 10:15

There are several vegan muffin recipes on my blog, I usually use frozen and defrosted soy milk as it curdles and is like an eggy milk mix in texture.
The best thing is that you can bake them when you have no fresh food in!

Susan from Food Blogga May 29, 2008 at 22:33

I just love to experiment with low-fat and healthy muffins. Your suggestions are great. I also like using non-fat yogurt or cottage cheese to replace some of the fat in the recipe.

Sophie June 1, 2008 at 04:33

Thanks for sharing these healthy tips with us :). I’m always looking for ways to bake healthier, especially now that I don’t have a gallbladder!
Is pure canola oil still considered vegetable oil? I’m a bit confused :).
Also, I tend to cook with applesauce instead of oil or butter, do you know of any other substitutes that will make for a moist baked good?

Sophie June 2, 2008 at 21:42

Kathryn – yes, I think is why my baking efforts always tends to centre around muffins!
Hippolyra – I’ll definitely give the soy milk a go
Susan – I must experiment with cottage cheese muffins a bit more. They seem like a perfect option for breakfast in particular
Hi Other Sophie! Canola oil is always a type of rapeseeds oil and vegetable oil is nearly always rapeseed oil but occasionally has other oils in there too (hope that makes sense!). We don’t get canola as such in the uk which is why I always mention vegetable oil at the same time.
Re other low fat substitutes, I know a lot of people bake with prune and date purees or soft mashed banana (or you can try something more whacky like cooked butternut squash)

Paula June 6, 2008 at 22:51

One nice alternative to icing is to make an oat topping, by mixing a few handfuls of coarse oats, with muscavado sugar or honey, a pinch of cinnamon and a little olive oil. This create a crumble like topping which is great on fruit muffins such as apple, pear, or rhubarb. I don’t know if its any better for you calorie wise, but the oats provide some added fibre and it tastes great.

Y June 25, 2008 at 14:13

Looks like a great muffin. I like a bit of wholewheat/wholemeal flour in my muffins, and fruit as well.

Tim July 1, 2008 at 15:43

Excellent tips, now I can eat twice as many ;P

Katie September 6, 2008 at 15:59

This looks fantastic – i think i’ll have to try it immediately I have LOTS of studying to do (one might ask why I’m cruising food gawker looking at recipes) but im sure my brain will work better after I’ve eating one of these muffins!

Nathalie February 11, 2009 at 15:28

I’d never have thought of the mango-lime-ginger combination but it really sounds delicious!
Thank you for the tips to make them healthier. I’ll feel a bit better when eating them now :)

The Curious Baker December 30, 2009 at 21:06

What a lovely blog!LOVE the pic of a muffin in a teacup..genius! I love quirky things like that…Not sure how to add your RSS feed so went for email updates instead :)

Sakshi Kapoor January 12, 2018 at 05:56

Healthier! This was actually ironic. It seems like having this would burst multiple flavors in your mouth. Looks amazing.

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