Chocolate Muffins Recipe: Vegan, Whole Wheat, and Low Fat
The Joy of Chocolate
I love chocolate. It’s my favourite variety of ice cream, smoothie, cookie, cake, and muffin. Cocoa gives chocolate its flavour and has many health benefits, but unfortunately the cocoa in chocolate bars and foods is often accompanied by unhealthy ingredients. Chocolate muffins sold in stores are frequently high in fat and sugar and may contain artificial colours and flavours as well.
Luckily, muffins are quick and easy to make at home, where it’s easy to control their ingredients. The recipe for chocolate muffins shown below contains whole wheat flour and is very low in fat. Although no oil or solid fat is included in the list of ingredients, the muffins aren’t completely fat free, since the rice milk sold in stores contains a small amount of added oil. The pumpkin puree and apple sauce in this recipe provide the texture that fat usually supplies in baked goods.
The muffins contain no animal products, so they are suitable for vegans. Since they are dairy free, they are also suitable for people who are allergic to dairy products. In addition, the muffins contain no added sucrose from table sugar. They are nice to eat as a snack or as part of a meal. They make a delicious dessert when they’re eaten with vegan chocolate pudding or vegan ice cream.
Muffin Types: Bread and Cake
Muffins come in two basic varieties. Most supermarkets sell large muffins with a cake-like texture. These are soft muffins that are generally rich in fat and very sweet to taste. Muffins with a bread-like texture are generally firmer and denser and have a coarser crumb. They are often less sweet as well. Bread-style muffins frequently resemble mini quick breads. They are often—but not always—healthier than cake-style muffins. Cake muffins may be nice for a treat, but the only muffins that I make at home are bread muffins.
Potential Health Benefits of Cocoa
I enjoy chocolate and chocolate flavoured foods for their taste. Cocoa is a healthy substance as well as being tasty, however. It contains chemicals called flavonoids which may benefit us in several ways.
The best studied flavonoid in cocoa is epicatechin, which seems to be especially helpful in maintaining cardiovascular health. Cocoa flavonoids are thought to inhibit the clumping of platelets together to form blood clots. Blood clots inside blood vessels can cause heart attacks and strokes.
Cocoa flavonoids also act as antioxidants. Researchers have shown that they can reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol). Oxidized cholesterol stimulates the buildup of deposits called plaque in arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Cocoa also seems to reduce inflammation and hypertension (high blood pressure).
The health benefits of cocoa may be negated if the cocoa is eaten with lots of fat and sugar, since these increase the risk of health problems. In addition, the research that has been done has examined the effects of cocoa ingested as a drink or in chocolate rather than inside baked products like chocolate muffins. Another important point to note is that cocoa comes in different varieties. The cocoa type that has been studied by scientists is especially rich in flavonoids. The muffin recipe below is healthy, though. Any extra benefit from the cocoa will be an added bonus.
Health Benefits of Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour contains bran, which is the outer layer of the grain. This gives the flour a flecked appearance, a rich taste, and a much higher level of insoluble fibre than white flour. It does produce a denser texture in the muffin, though. For people who would like a lighter textured muffin but would also like to obtain insoluble fibre, mixing whole wheat and white flour in equal amounts might be a good plan.
Insoluble fibre is healthy for the intestine. It provides bulk to the contents of the gut by absorbing water and speeds up the movement of the material. This helps to remove wastes from the intestine and prevent constipation. In addition, whole grains (including whole wheat) may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Pumpkin Health Benefits
Like apple sauce, pumpkin puree makes a good substitute for fat in muffin recipes. It's rich in beta-carotene, which is the plant form of vitamin A. The chemical gives pumpkin its orange colour. Our bodies can convert beta-carotene into the animal form of vitamin A that we need.
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, which is a substance that inhibits the oxidation of chemicals. Oxidation leads to the production of free radicals. Free radicals can potentially damage cells, so antioxidants are very useful substances in our bodies.
Vitamin A that is eaten in foods from animal sources or is made from beta-carotene is important for vision. Beta-carotene may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.
Agave Syrup and Nectar
Agave syrup is also known as agave nectar. It's obtained from the agave cactus. It's often used as a vegan alternative to honey. The makers of the brand that I use claim that their syrup has a glycemic index of 39 or less, which means that it has a low effect on blood sugar level.
Agave syrup and nectar are high in fructose. Like any concentrated sweetener, they shouldn’t be used in large quantities. Regularly eating large amounts of products that are rich in concentrated fructose may increase the level of triglycerides in the blood. A high triglyceride level increases the risk of insulin resistance and heart disease.
It's important to look at ingredients carefully when a recipe claims to be sugar-free. The problem is the definition of the word "sugar". Sometimes the word means table sugar, or sucrose, in which case a sugar-free claim may be accurate. Using this definition, my recipe is probably sugar-free. I say "probably" because sucrose is found in small quantities in a variety of plants besides sugar cane and beets. In chemistry, the word sugar refers to a group of related molecules with a sweet taste and the ability to provide calories. Using this definition, fructose is a type of sugar.
Ingredients for Twelve Muffins
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup vanilla rice milk (unsweetened)
1/3 cup canned pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
1/3 cup apple sauce (unsweetened)
1/2 cup of agave syrup
Tips for Mixing Muffin Batter
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda together.
- In a separate bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, apple sauce, agave syrup, and rice milk together.
- Combine the dry and wet ingredients. Be careful not to over-stir the mixture. Over-stirring causes tunnels to appear in the baked muffins. No more than fifteen stirs should be used.
- Spoon the mixture into twelve oiled, lined, or nonstick muffin cups, filling each cup about three quarters full.
- Bake the muffins for twenty minutes. I check to see if they are done after fifteen minutes.
The muffins are ready to take out of the oven when a skewer or toothpick that is inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Once they’re out of the oven, leave the muffins in their pan for five to ten minutes, then remove them from the pan and cool them on a wire rack before eating.
Low Fat Vegan and Gluten-Free Chocolate Cherry Muffins
Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Muffins
Another recipe for low fat vegan chocolate muffins is shown in the video above. The muffins are gluten-free, which is essential for some people, but they aren't made from a whole grain flour. They contain unrefined brown sugar as a sweetener.
A gluten-free diet is vital for someone with celiac disease. In people with this disorder, the ingestion of gluten causes the destruction of villi on the lining of the small intestine. The villi are tiny folds that absorb nutrients from digested food.
The variety and availability of gluten-free foods is increasing, at least where I live. Chocolate muffins without gluten are sold in specialty stores. Unfortunately, they are often expensive and contain unhealthy ingredients. One advantage of making muffins of any type at home is that the baker can modify a recipe to improve nutrition or taste. Experimentation is often fun. Muffins can make both healthy and delicious snacks and meal additions.
- "Science celebrates cocoa and chocolate's potential health benefits." American Chemical Society. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2012/march/science-celebrates-cocoa-and-chocolates-potential-health-benefits.html (accessed September 22, 2017).
- "Heart Healthy Benefits of Chocolate." Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/benefits-of-chocolate-heart-health (accessed September 22, 2017).
- "LDL Cholesterol and Heart Disease." University of California, Berkeley. http://www.berkeleywellness.com/self-care/preventive-care/article/ldl-cholesterol-and-heart-disease (accessed September 22, 2017).
- American Institute for Cancer Research. "Whole grains decrease colorectal cancer risk, processed meats increase the risk: Report analyzing the global research finds hot dogs and other processed meats increase risk of colorectal cancer, eating more whole grains and being physically active lowers risk." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170907093623.htm (accessed September 22, 2017).
- Obenschain, Chris. "6 Surprising Health Benefits of Pumpkin." WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/6-surprising-health-benefits-of-pumpkin#1 (accessed September 22, 2017).
© 2011 Linda Crampton