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posted: 3/3/2010 12:01 AM

Low-calorie bran muffins can be served up instead of energy bars

Lean and lovin' it

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A good friend caught me at the gym the other day and asked if I'd ever made a homemade, lower fat version of an energy bar. He was looking for something he could grab after a his morning lap swim and on his way to work.

After completing my workout I headed to the kitchen with a mission.

The nutrition profile of many energy bars puts them dangerously close to candy bars, but without the pleasing taste. Instead of a pasty grab-and-go bar, I envisioned something more wholesome and far tastier: a raisin-studded, full-flavored bran muffin.

I'm not talking about those bakery bran muffin that look healthy but can contain up to 400 calories along with not-so-good-for-you hydrogenated or saturated fats and more sugar than a candy bar. My better bran muffins would start with both organic all-purpose, unbleached white flour and organic whole-wheat flour; I figured using all whole-wheat flour would create a brick of a muffin and no one wants to start their day with that.

Wheat grains (the seed of the plant really) are made up of three parts: endosperm (83 percent of the grain) from which white flour is made (it contains most of wheat's carbohydrate and protein); bran (14.5 percent) that contains more than half of wheat's fiber, and some of the germ (2.5 percent) that supplies fat and a healthy dose of B vitamins.

Whole wheat flour contains all three components while white flour has been stripped of the bran and germ. Since bran cereals contain sugars (sometimes a lot), I wanted to add pure wheat bran to my muffins for its low calorie count (60 per ounce), high fiber content (12 grams) and zero sugar.

Aiming for healthier muffins I used organic eggs high in omega 3 (a good fat) and good quality vegetable oil. Butter imparts a wonderful flavor, but its saturated fat and cholesterol took it out of my game. Vegetable oil has zero cholesterol and can be low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat (another good fat).

I nixed white sugar and went with dark brown sugar for its big flavor. And I added raisins since they boost the fiber levels and natural sweetness and glucose, the kind of sugar muscles need after a workout.

Searching through my cookbooks, I found three recipes that fit into my vision and took the best parts of each as I headed into the kitchen.

I mixed-up a batch of muffins using drained applesauce to trim fat and calories and quickly learned that bran muffins are picky about how long they're baked. If you wait until a toothpick comes out clean; they're over done. Instead, pull them out when the toothpick has a few moist crumbs clinging to it. I'd rather have slightly underbaked moist muffins than over-baked dry ones.

I went with mix of golden and dark raisins in the next batch and baked them just right this time. I gave the recipe and six muffins to my friend the next day and when I saw him later in the week he raved about their terrific, almost caramel flavor and good texture. He said they truly satisfied him after a morning workout; definitely something he could grab-and-go.

My new bran muffins were healthy winners with us; what do you think?

• Don Mauer welcomes comments, questions and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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