Cutting the empty calories in your baking. Includes a sugar-free muffin recipe

By Mona Blaber, writer for the FoodSyndicate

Take everything you hear about sugar with a grain of salt.
It’s probably not as bad as a lot of people think, but it might be more damaging than most people realize.

Those of us who blithely munch on muffins at breakfast and Pop-Tarts at lunch don’t seem to pay much heed to refined sugar and its many vehicles, including non-sweets such as peanut butter and bread.

Those of us who have read William Dufty’s “Sugar Blues” – or any number of other anti-sugar rants – avoid it like the plague, which was caused by sugar, according to Dufty. If the mayonnaise in our cole slaw contains high-fructose corn syrup, we fear the imminent onset of gout, acne, dropsy, scurvy, depression and premature death. Which is silly, because sugar has only been linked to acne, dropsy, scurvy, depression and premature death.

If only it was that easy to indict, or acquit, sugar. According to most experts, it has only one direct negative effect that has been reliably documented: tooth decay. But even at its most benign, refined sugar is the only food that provides calories but no other nutrients. (Refined, or processed, sugar is added sugar, as opposed to those that occur naturally in, for example, fruit and milk; they come alongside folate, calcium, fiber, Vitamin A and other nutrients.)

According to Barry Popkin, nutrition professor at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, “Americans consume up to one-fourth of their energy from added sugar. Either this added sugar is in the form of empty calories and affects issues such as poor bone density, etc., or it increases total energy,” and therefore contributes to weight gain. “So my feeling is that this is bad but there is not a lot of evidence for a specific direct linkage of one calorie of sugar to anything.”

In other words, we often eat sugar calories in place of those that carry the good stuff that helps us fight osteoporosis, cancer, etc. Or we eat sugar calories in addition to the nutritional sort and start packing on pounds. But a brownie will not kill you, or even give you dropsy.

However, some doctors (including diet guru Robert Atkins) maintain that refined sugar can be seriously harmful. What to do? Who to believe? Well, even the most sugar-friendly experts recommend replacing many of those empty calories with more nutritious energy vehicles. Soft drinks and commercial cakes, cookies and muffins are the all-stars of the nutritional void, according to the United States Department of Agriculture and many health organizations. But if you bake at home, you can moderate what goes into your treats. It’s not very hard, once you try, to make everybody in your house happy and sneak in all kinds of vitamins and minerals while nobody’s looking.

This moist, tender and unique muffin won raves from my whole family. The peppers are fairly subtle, but they can be omitted if you have kids who don’t like spices.

Mona Blaber, a freelance journalist who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., with her husband and three stepchildren, puts extensive research, and trial-and-error, into her fantastic (refined) sugar-free baking recipes. Her mom never let her have the cereal with sugar in it when she was little.

Spicy Blue-Corn Apple Muffins

Ingredients: (makes 12 muffins)

1 1/4 (one and one-fourth) cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 (three-fourths) cup whole-grain blue cornmeal
3/4 (three-fourths) teaspoon baking soda
1/4 (one-fourth) teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1/2 (one-half) teaspoon nutmeg
1 pepper, such as habanero or jalapeño, with pods removed and finely chopped in food processor
1 large egg
1/2 (one-half) cup nonfat plain yogurt
1/3 (one-third) cup 1 percent milk
1/3 (one-third) cup thawed apple-juice concentrate
1/2 (one-half) cup tart apples (Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are in season year-round
2 large, very ripe mashed bananas


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-muffin tin. Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and chipotle. In separate bowl, beat egg. Mix in milk, yogurt and concentrate. Add mashed bananas, apples and pepper. Mix egg mixture into flour mixture, using as few strokes as necessary. Immediately spoon batter into muffin tins. Bake for about 15 minutes. Cool for five minutes and remove muffins from tins while warm.
In each muffin, there are about 118 calories and 0.6 grams of fat, about 0.13 of which is saturated.

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