Good Morning Muffins

I love muffins. They pair so well with coffee or tea, are a terrific pre- or post- workout snack, or a quick grab-and-go breakfast.  But I try to keep in mind that most versions are really cleverly disguised cupcakes.Mammoth Muffin

A sprinkling of oats on top and clever marketing claims create a health halo effect, and many people believe that the standard muffin is a healthy choice.  But most muffins are made with refined flour, plenty of sugar, and don’t provide much nutrition.  Oversized muffins and large amounts of fat also mean hefty calorie counts (some large muffins have almost 500 calories).  And low-fat labelled muffins often aren’t a healthy choice either.

Making your own muffins is a good way control the ingredients.  This recipe is a healthier version of “Morning Glory” muffins, attributed to Chef Pam McKinstry of the Morning Glory Cafe on Nantucket island. You can tailor the recipe to the fruit, dried fruit, and nuts that you have on hand.

Ingredient swaps for better nutrition (& flavour!)

A generous amount of fruits and grated carrots add moistness and great flavours while providing many important nutrients;  the nuts add healthy fats; and whole grain flour has the minerals and fiber that have been stripped out of refined white flour (and you likely don’t need to worry about the gluten . . . ).

These ingredients also improve the fiber content, something that is lacking in most diets.   I’ve cut down on the sugar, but these muffins are still sweet thanks to the fresh fruit, dried fruit, and brown sugar. You may be tempted to use a “more healthful” sweetener than sugar, but don’t be fooled: although some believe that “natural” sweeteners are better for you,  sugar is sugar.  The overall calorie count is lower than traditional muffins as well, which is good for those who don’t need the excess calories.

You’ll find some other good tips for adapting your favourite muffin recipes here.

Morning Glory Muffins Against Wall

Are muffins a healthy breakfast?

Traditional muffins definitely aren’t a good breakfast, since they provide few nutrients and should really be considered as dessert or a treat.  Although this recipe is much more nutritious, it would be best paired with other foods for breakfast (e.g., nonfat  yogurt, nuts, fresh fruit) for added protein and nutrition.

I would consider these a perfect pre or post workout snack . . . rich in carbohydrates that you need for exercise, and your body will use the sugar in the muffins for a good purpose!



  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk (dairy or plain soymilk)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup canola oil or melted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract


  • 1.5 cups grated carrots
  • 1.5 cups chopped fruit (apple, pear, or canned drained pineapple are all delicious)
  • ½ cup dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dates)
  • ¼ cup walnuts or pecans

GARNISH (Optional – but highly recommended!)

  • Oats
  • Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 deg F, and prepare 12-cup muffin tin with butter and flour (or line with paper muffin cup liners).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, combine egg, milk, brown sugar, oil, and vanilla.  Stir in carrots, chopped fruit, dried fruit, and nuts.
  4. Stir wet ingredients into dry, mixing just until combined.
  5. Dividing batter into muffin tins and top with oats/nuts/seeds for garnish if using.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes (or until tester comes out clean).

Makes 12 Muffins

Nutrition Per Muffin

  • 185 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • 7 g fat
  • 16 mg cholesterol
  • 31 g carbohydrate
  • 3.5 g fiber
  • 215 mg sodium
  • 133 mg potassium
  • Iron: 3 % Daily Value
  • Calcium: 6.5 % Daily Value

Muffins Cake


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Healthy or Hype? Turmeric

Turmeric seems to be everywhere these days. This signature spice that lends curries and mustards their distinct colour is now popping up in unlikely foods and beverages like golden spice lattes, hot chocolate, and even sodas.

And you can count on more foods adopting turmeric’s characteristic yellow-orange hue, as the turmeric food trend is a strong one. A recent Google food trend analysis ranks turmeric as the number 1 rising star, as interest in turmeric has grown significantly in a short period.

Source: Google internal data, August 2015-February 2016, United States
Source: Google internal data, August 2015-February 2016, United States

The Internet is a go-to source for information about food and health. But teasing out the evidence-based information from the hype is becoming increasingly more difficult.  Is the turmeric trend supported by the body of scientific evidence?

What Is Turmeric?

Turmeric and Turmeric powder on white background

Turmeric comes from the thick root of the turmeric plant: it looks a bit like a small ginger root, and cooks prepare it in a similar way to add a subtle earthy flavour and bright colour to dishes.  If you are new to cooking with turmeric, be aware that turmeric can stain hands, clothes, and even cooking utensils bright yellow orange (historically turmeric was a popular dye, and some use it as a dye today).   Most people are more familiar with turmeric ground to a golden powder, which is available in the spice isle of most grocery stores.

Health Claims

Recognized as an ancient home remedy in Asia, and commonplace in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, many believe that turmeric has medicinal properties.  A quick search reveals turmeric as a “cure-all.” The claims for turmeric’s healing properties are wide ranging — from improving cognitive function, cardiovascular function, and weight loss to fighting cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, arthritis, headaches, depression, digestive diseases, the common cold, and many more health conditions.  No wonder people are sprinkling turmeric on everything. . . (whether it tastes good or not).  Does this sound too good to be true?


A large body of research has looked into turmeric and health, focusing on curcumin, a polyphenol compound thought to be responsible for turmeric’s potential therapeutic effects. Curcumin makes up only about 3-5% of turmeric.

Curcumin, the potential health-promoting compound, makes up only about 3-5% of turmeric
Curcumin is the potential health-promoting compound in turmeric

Preclinical studies suggested that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action might help prevent or treat various chronic diseases.  Though promising, it is important to categorize this research as preliminary or hypothesis generating, as much of it is “in vitro” (conducted in test tubes) or in animals. Researchers have studied curcumin in humans, but results have been inconclusive. Also, best to interpret this research with caution as most studies had a small number of participants, short durations, and many did not compare curcumin to a placebo. Though we shouldn’t generalize conclusions from these small-scale studies, their findings can inform larger scale trials.

Another issue with research in humans is that the body doesn’t absorb regular curcumin very well:  you can consume a lot of it, but very little reaches the blood or tissues where it can have a clinical effect.  Research shows that rodents absorb little (<1%) of the curcumin they consume. However, one line of research is investigating ways to improve absorption: for example, some studies suggest that black pepper boosts the bioavailability of curcumin.

So, turmeric contains <5% of curcumin, and most of this tiny amount isn’t bioavailable . . . why are so many stretching the culinary uses of this standard curry spice to desserts and convincing themselves that turmeric flavoured smoothies “taste good,” or are even “good for you?”Turmeric Smoothie Healthy

It’s too easy to be persuaded of turmeric’s potential healing powers. Those championing turmeric’s benefits are citing individual studies without proper scientific context.  Critically evaluating the available research is a challenge and requires substantial expertise. Luckily, a new comprehensive review published in January 2017 has done just that. Investigators at the University of Minnesota reviewed the evidence for curcumin, which included thousands of studies and over 120 clinical trials.  The authors raise important questions about the research and comment that curcumin’s health benefits are “much ado about nothing.”

There is no rigorous human study (double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial) showing benefit to turmeric.  Another serious problem overlooked by many is that curcumin’s chemical structure is unstable and can produce “false hits” in studies – i.e., showing that it is acting on a disease-causing protein, when it really isn’t.

What about Curcumin Supplements?

Are concentrated supplements of turmeric’s potential beneficial compound (curcumin) a good choice?  It seems many North Americans think so, as the market for curcumin is large (US$20 million in 2014) and growing.  And marketing by the likes of Dr Oz, Dr Hyman, Dr Mercola, or the Food Babe always persuades many. Curcumin supplements are likely a waste of money, as the recent comprehensive research review shows that they lack sufficient evidence of efficacy.Curumin Supplements Scientific Evidence

In general, you should be wary of all dietary supplements and their claims. The supplement industry is unregulated (which means questionable dosage, efficacy, and safety), but clever marketing manages to persuade many.

Bottom Line

Although many studies have investigated turmeric/curcumin, and some have shown promise, at this point these findings aren’t good enough evidence to suggest that consuming turmeric improves any health condition.  It’s important to consider the preliminary nature of the research and recent review questioning of curcumin’s biological activity. Turmeric is certainly not a cure-all panacea as some have touted.  More research may help uncover specific benefits to curcumin or other compounds in turmeric.

Typical North Indian spicy dish or cuisine called Chana Masala
Using turmeric in healthful dishes is a great idea!

But cooking with spices like turmeric is a great idea.  These plant-based seasonings can flavour food deliciously without the need for excess salt or fat.  And looking for recipes featuring turmeric may help you cook more and inspire you to prepare healthful dishes.  But even if effective, turmeric is a small-player for promoting health and preventing disease: better to focus efforts on eating a good diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough physical activity, measures that have proven benefits for health and well-being.

Healthy or Hype Series

More Healthy or Hype Resources at this link.

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Another trip to Silver Star

I was lucky enough to spend a week with family and friends at Silver Star Mountain Resort in south-central BC.  This is truly a paradise for cross country skiers, with one of the largest groomed trail network in the country.

Treetops Small

Part of the magic of Silver Star, beyond the Dr Seuss Whoville-like trees, is that you can ski from your door: just step out and put your skis on. Groomed “skiways” lead to trails that can take you up and over the mountain! This was our sixth year staying with friends at the Silberne Spitzen house, a perfect place for cross country skiers that seems to have a new addition every year (this year it’s a a sauna . . .unfortunately it wasn’t operational yet!).

Here is the view from the Silberne Spitzen window

View From Window Small

Checking out a new trail at the top of the mountain. . .

Follow Me Panorama Small

Sovereign Lake Nordic Center

Over the mountain (an amazing ski or 5-minute drive) is the adjoining Sovereign Lake Nordic Center — which boasts another superb network of trails with race courses that have hosted many NorAm races and several World Cup events.

Sovereign Lakes Venue Small

Our last few days in Silver Star I raced the NorAm/USSA SuperTour events at Sovereign Lake: a classic sprint on Saturday, and 10km skate race on Sunday. Typically the Sovereign Lake event and NorAm circuit attracts the best Canadian skiers not competing on the World Cup. Combining the event with a USSA Supertour raised the level of competition tremendously, with Americans dominating the top 10 in both races. With the altitude and hard course these early season races are typically a challenge, but still fun to do!  (results here).

Saturday’s sprints marked the first NorAm events where the new classic pole measurement rules (maximum height of 83% body height) went into effect. 

Pole Measuring Small

Coming back from Silver Star is always hard, but arriving home to Ottawa’s winter wonderland was a nice surprise!

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Pumpkin Bars with a Pecan Oat Crust

Pumpkin pie is a delicious symbol of harvest times, but it’s just too good to save for special occasions. Here is a spin-off recipe with a twist or two: it’s pretty good and the superior nutrition means there’s no need to save it for a special holiday dessert. I’ve lightened up some heavy traditional pumpkin pie ingredients to make it more nutritious without losing any of the flavour.

Isolated Pecan Pumpkin Bar SmallFor the custard filling, evaporated milk (milk with about half of the water removed) adds richness and is an excellent stand-in for cream, providing 2.5 times more protein, 4 times more calcium, and less fat.  I’ve cut down on the sugar a bit, but the filling is still rich and satisfying.

The crust features oats and nuts (instead of refined flour and shortening/butter). These two nutrition all-stars are also quite flavourful and combine really well with the pumpkin filling. If you don’t have pecans, walnuts would also be great.

I’ve baked it in a format that allows you to cut into it bars or squares, which are more versatile (but unfortunately the custard filling doesn’t make it a portable workout snack . . it’s great for recovery though!).


Pecan Oat Crust
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 1 egg
Pumpkin Custard Filling
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree*
  • 1.5 cups evaporated milk (1 can – either non fat or 2%)
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. salt

* if you used a big can of pumpkin (29 oz; 796 mL) you should have just enough pumpkin left to make my Pumpkin Spice Bread!

  • 1/2 cup pecans halves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Pumpkin Pecan Bars Circle


Make the Crust

  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Place the oats, pecans, brown sugar, and salt, and flour in food processor and process. Add the butter and egg and process until well mixed.
  2. Press mixture into a 9 x 13 dish that has been lined with foil or parchment paper.  Use your hands and fingers to spread the dough and press it evenly all over the inside of the pan (it helps if you wet your fingers with water).
  3. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Pumpkin Filling and Topping

  1. Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, evaporated milk, cornstarch, eggs, spices, and salt in large mixer bowl or food processor (I quickly just wipe out the food processor from the crust processing to save some cleanup).
  2. Process for about 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Combine chopped pecans and brown sugar (for topping). Set aside.
  4. Pour filling into cooled crust. After about 20 minutes, remove the bars from the oven and top with pecan/brown sugar mixture. Return to oven and bake for about 20-25 more minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the filling comes out clean.
  5. Cool on wire rack. Cut into bars (I cut the rectangle into 2 and remove each half to cut into bars on a cutting board).

Yield: 24 bars

Pumpkin IsolatedUsing Fresh Pumpkin

Canned pumpkin works well in this recipe, but you may want to use fresh pumpkin when they are in season. It’s generally not a good idea to use large pumpkins for cooking, since they don’t have as much flesh and it tends to be more watery, stringy, and have less flavour.  Small pumpkins (about 10-12 inches in diameter) are best for cooking.

Motivated to cook your own? Check my tips for How to Cut and Cook Squash.

Nutrition Notes

  • Pecans IsolatedPECANS are rich in healthy unsaturated fats associated with favorable lipid profiles.  Like most nuts they also contain important vitamins (notably vitamin E) and minerals, as well as fiber.  And these nutrients may benefit health, as eating nuts can lower cardiovascular disease risk, according to a recent meta-analysis.   In this analysis, researchers looked at 61 studies that examined the effect of tree nuts on blood lipids (tree nuts include walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts).  They found that tree nut consumption was linked to blood markers associated with lower heart disease risk (lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and ApoB). The greatest effect was linked with consuming 60 grams of nuts or more daily (60 g nuts is equivalent to about 40 pecan halves).
  • OATS are well-know for their cholesterol lowering properties: a recent systematic review and meta-analysis shows that beyond reducing LDL (“lousy”) cholesterol, oats also positively influence non-HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B. Oats also contain antioxidant compounds called avenanthramides that help decrease chronic inflammation that can lead to disease.
  • The deep-orange colour of PUMPKIN is a sign of protective carotenoids (mainly beta-carotene), which can act as an antioxidant, inhibit cancer cell growth, and improve immune response. A number of studies suggest that diets rich in carotenoid-containing foods can help discourage the development and progression of several types of cancer. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of vitamin A and potassium, and a good source of vitamin C, and fiber.

Nutrition per Bar

  • 150 calories
  • 4 g protein
  • 23 g carbohydrates
  • 7 g fat (1 g sat)
  • 25 mg cholesterol
  • 2 g fiber
  • 160 mg sodium
  • 170 mg potassium
  • Vitamin A 23% DV
  • Vitamin C 2% DV
  • Calcium: 6% DV
  • Magnesium:  4% DV
  • Iron: 5% DV

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