14 June 2010

A Nutrient Rich Breakfast - Plus Chocolate!

When trying to eat healthy, sometimes looks can be deceiving. Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut. I believe that any breakfast, however bad its reputation, and however nutritionally vacant it might look can actually hold some value. Fact is, I like to eat, and I'm not going to deprive myself of something delicious just because general wisdom says it's "bad." (Read through this blog long enough, and you'll pick up my overall disdain of general "wisdom.").

Some things do need a makeover however.

That being said, this was my healthy breakfast last Sunday:

(What you can see: pancakes with a homemade strawberry sauce. What you can't see: between each layer is a thin slathering of Nutella spread.)

You may be thinking, pancakes and chocolate? How can this possibly be healthy?!

Take the Cake

Well, last weekend, I decided to experiment with whole wheat pancakes. I'll be honest, I don't recall where I got the recipe, because I wasn't overly impressed with the outcome after my tweaks. Once I come up with a great whole-wheat pancake recipe, I'll share. For now, I'm in the experimentation phase.

This stack of 4" pancakes was crafted from basic ingredients, but as opposed to refined white flour, and fat-free buttermilk (yuck), this was made with whole wheat flour, some whole-milk yogurt (all the acidity of buttermilk with the added nutrition of full-fat dairy), eggs, and baking powder. I actually ended up adding a little bit of AP flour, just for some structure (the whole wheat was really heavy, and the pancakes were coming out flat and goopy. A little AP lightened it up just enough to let the baking powder do its thing).

Lesson here? If you're trying to make the move to whole-wheat flour (which I am, with great gusto), understand the importance of each ingredient. I didn't consider the ramifications of going 100% to whole wheat flour, and paid for that oversight with a batch of goopy, flat, inedible squishy disks that barely resembled the pancakes I know and love. Something light and fluffy like this, it would appear, calls for a balance between whole grain and (gulp) refined flour. On the up side, wheat contains more fiber than pretty much any other grain (4X the amount in brown rice) so even replacing just a portion of the AP with whole-grain flour is a great first step.

Over the Top

I went into that morning knowing I wanted pancakes, but also knowing I had nothing to top them with. Even the best pancakes are a little dry to be eating alone. Although I love butter, I knew it wasn't going to cut it as a stand-alone topping either. And syrup (which I didn't have anyway) is really not a nutritious option. I know, "everything in moderation," but I don't think it's really possible to do syrup in moderation.Either do it as a treat occasionally, or find something better to replace it.

So I start searching my pantry and fridge. Here is a dramatization of what was going on in my brain (Warning: however brief, a glimpse into my conscious thought process might be enough to scare you away from this blog forever.You have been warned)

"Hmm... pantry... peanut butter, maybe, a little heavy though, and we don't have any jelly... Nutella, that might be good, but it's too much alone... onions? onion jam? no, that's just silly... cinnamon-sugar, naahh... ok what's in my tiny fridge?... cheese? maybe a savory thing going on?... no, I want sweet... ooh! I have strawberries? how did I forget that? I could slice them up and... oh crap, they're getting kind of mushy... well, i do have that strawberry-rhubarb sauce down after a week of tests... yeah! strawberry 'syrup,' it's not maple, but it'll work. good call Self!"

So there you have it. Sorry to expose you to the craziness that goes on in my head, but at least now you understand. Yes, I have considered onions and cheese in or on pancakes. PB&J Pancakes, clearly. Nutella on anything... And there, all of a sudden, was an intense urge for Nutella. Thank goodness it goes well with strawberries.

Sweet Tooth

I don't think I need to explain how strawberry sauce is healthy: the strawberries were barely sweetened with just a touch of honey (the fresh stuff doesn't need it), and then simmered for about 30 minutes until they broke down into a gooey, thick, delicious topping. But Nutella? OK, I think Nutella claiming it's as healthful as peanut butter is a stretch. Good peanut butter consists of one ingredient: peanuts. Ok, maybe a little salt too, but that's it.

Nutella has 7: "sugar, modified palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (from milk), soy lecithin: an emulsifier, vanillin: an artificial flavor."

The pros: All of the ingredients are recognizable (except maybe soy lecithin...) No artificial colors or preservatives, no corn syrup, no added salt. Palm oil is extracted by pressing, not dangerous solvent extraction (but may be tied to heart disease...). Oh, right, Nutella is delicious too!

The cons: Artificial flavoring (although not as scary as you might think, at least no better or worse than "natural" flavoring); soy lecithin, a byproduct of soybean oil that IS produced by hexane extraction (like canola oil), thankfully only used in very small amounts. It is high in choline, which is good for brain development, so the jury's really out on this one. All in all, it provides very little in the way of nutrition.

So it's not the healthiest thing in the world. But a (realistic) healthy diet does not exclude everything that might be bad for you, or offers nothing to your diet. Instead, you need to educate yourself about the products you consume (especially processed ones) and make a judgement call. Which is a stronger side, the pros or cons? In this case, I think the deliciousness of Nutella outweighs the issues I have with the last two ingredients on the label.

Bottom Line

It comes down to 2 things: making sure you've provided healthy nutrition in your meal, and practicing moderation with the less-than-ideal things.In the case of my delicious breakfast, I got antioxidants, B-vitamins, Vitamin E, magnesium, iron, fiber from my whole wheat; I got folate, fiber, potassium, antioxidants, Vitamin C, and Omega-3's. I think this far outweighs the tablespoon or so of Nutella that ended up in the final product.

All in all, I think this was a great pancake makeover. You get all the satisfaction of normal pancakes, with a heck of a lot more usable nutrition, with just a touch of the sin-factor that makes eating pancakes so fun in the first place.

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