There’s been a lot of talk lately about the dangers of sugar, and one reader asked:
So if you bake things from scratch with things like unsweetened apple sauce instead of sugar and whole grains and seeds etc… can they still be considered healthy? Like are healthy muffins or banana breads possible?
The reason this is hard to answer is because “healthy” is not a black and white word. Instead it is a fuzzy word with many shades of gray. That is because health is not made or broken by any single food, it reflects your daily choices and habits. Health is a pattern, not an event.
Adding less sugar or more nutritious ingredients may indeed move an item a few degrees in the healthy direction, but it won’t change the fact that a muffin is a muffin and will always contain some sugar and flour, and never be an example of healthy eating.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat a muffin and continue to be healthy.
The problem with a “healthier” muffin is a philosophical one, because the reality is we do not eat muffins for health. We eat them for enjoyment, which is arguably as important as health when considering your quality of life.
So is it worth sacrificing the pleasure you get from eating a muffin to make it slightly closer to something it will never be?
I think this answer will be different for everyone. For myself, it is definitely no. I’d rather eat fewer (or smaller) tastier muffins than any lesser version of the same.
But muffins don’t mean much to me, whereas for some of you muffins represent a cherished time with your grandmother, a Sunday morning ritual with your child, or some other deep, meaningful activity worth continuing regardless of health considerations.
In these cases, maybe there is a place for the slightly healthier muffin. Or maybe there is another habit you have that can be made healthier, so the impact of the occasional muffin is less significant.
Foods like muffins mean something different to everyone because they must be considered in the context of the diet as a whole. A breakfast muffin is certainly a worse idea if you had a 7 layer cake the previous evening, or if there are nachos in your immediate future.
The challenge for us as individuals is to be selective about which of our food habits we prioritize, which we drop, and which we upgrade.
It’s up to you to make the call.
Lastly, just to be sure we aren’t getting too serious with all this philosophy today, here’s the venerable Betty White describing her own delicious muffin.
Do you try to make desserts healthier?
Originally published April 20, 2011.