Nutty Oat Muffin Recipe, Spotlight on Oats (and Groats), plus the Body, Gut, and Brain Connection
This week’s news shows just how connected the body, gut, and brain are, with what we eat and how we move very much linked to our mental health. My nutty oat muffin recipe, so easy to make in less than 30 minutes, not only tastes great but can also help boost brain health as well as gut health, thanks to those oats. And we’re learning that movement goes beyond boosting physical health to also benefiting the brain—you can even pick types of exercise based on what mental benefits you seek.
Nutty Oat Muffins
- Nutty Oat Muffins
These muffins have a great crunch and are packed with whole grain goodness.
- 1-1/2 cups white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
- 3/4 cup rolled oats
- 2 ounces almonds or walnuts, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon stevia
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup blueberries, rinsed and patted dry
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 1 cup milk, your choice of dairy or plant-based
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
Preheat your oven to 400ºF if conventional, 380ºF if convection. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, nuts, baking powder, sugar, stevia, cinnamon, and salt. Add the berries and toss to coat (this will help them stay well distributed in the batter).
In a separate bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and use a spatula to fold them in just until no traces of flour remain.
Use a large ice cream scoop to fill a 12-muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes or until the tip of a knife comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and then transfer the muffins to a rack to finish cooling. Store in a covered tin for up to two days and then refrigerate.
Yields 12 muffins
Healthy Ingredient Spotlight
From groats to oats
Oats are known as a good source of soluble fiber—the 5 grams per serving help lower cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. Oatmeal is just the beginning of what you can make from rolled oats. In the recipe above, they meld beautifully into the finished muffins. But when a hot bowl of oatmeal is on the breakfast menu, you might be wondering whether you should start with popular steel-cut oats instead. Both come from oat groats, the oat grain with the hull removed (the bran and germ are intact, so oats are still considered a whole grain). What happens to the groats next explains the difference between rolled and steel-cut oats.
Rolled oats are oat groats that have been steamed and then passed through roller mills. The thicker the rolled oats, the more nutrients they pack.
Steel-cut oats are groats that have only been chopped into two or three pieces, no steaming or rolling. They need to be cooked much longer than rolled oats and are better in breakfast bowls than baked goods—they simply won’t soften enough. Because they need more water to cook than rolled oats, you end up with a bigger portion by volume. Finally, they’re digested more slowly than rolled oats; you feel full longer and have less of a spike in blood sugar—important if you’re managing a health condition like diabetes or prediabetes.
Healthy Kitchen Nugget
A better vanilla?
If you’re looking for intense vanilla flavor but don’t want to go to the expense of buying vanilla beans, consider using vanilla paste in place of extract. You can use it teaspoon-for-teaspoon in recipes for a deeper flavor, plus it has vanilla bean seeds for that characteristic speckled look, and because it’s thicker, it adds less liquid to batters. Though you often see the suggestion to use vanilla bean paste in desserts where the vanilla is the star, such as ice cream, custard, and crème brûlée, I find it perks up the flavor of any recipe that calls for extract.
For Your Best Health
Fiber: The new brain food
You already know that fiber is a must for digestive health and that we often don’t get enough. Need more motivation to up your intake? Researchers in Japan found that fiber may help brain health. Their study, just published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, looked at the diet and health records of 3,500 participants from the 1980s to 2020. They found a link between a high-fiber diet and a reduced risk of dementia.
There are two main types of fiber. Insoluble fibers, found mostly in whole grains and vegetables, are important for bowel health. Soluble fibers, found in foods like oats and legumes, are important for the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut, among other health benefits. When the researchers looked at the link between fiber intake and dementia, they found that soluble fiber had a more pronounced effect.
“The mechanisms are currently unknown but might involve the interactions that take place between the gut and the brain,” says lead author of the study, Kazumasa Yamagishi, MD, professor at the University of Tsukuba. “One possibility is that soluble fiber regulates the composition of gut bacteria. This composition may affect neuroinflammation, which plays a role in the onset of dementia. It’s also possible that dietary fiber may reduce other risk factors for dementia, such as body weight, blood pressure, lipids, and glucose levels. The work is still at an early stage, and it’s important to confirm the association in other populations.”
While we wait, there’s no reason not to stock up on those oats!
Movement for the brain
More amazing boosts to brain health come from exercise. A fascinating article posted by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, explores the new book Move!: The New Science of Body Over Mind (Hanover Square Press) by Caroline Williams, who points out that the connection between exercise and the brain goes deeper than the release of feel-good endorphins known as a runner’s high.
She describes how movement or the lack of it can send signals we may not even be aware of to the brain. As the article explains it: “If our body is communicating to our brain that we are sedentary or weak, that might create underlying feelings of depression or anxiety, insecurity or uncertainty. On the flip side, moving and building strength could create positive changes in our bodily systems that, when passed along to the brain, give us a subtle sense of happiness, confidence, and positivity.”
Based on interviews with researchers and practitioners around the world, Williams details the many ways that working your body can influence and improve your brain for the better. It’s full of suggestions for different ways of moving that have different brain health benefits. So, while any exercise is helpful for the body physically, you can also make choices tailored to your best mental health, like taking a group fitness class to feel more connected socially or dancing to your favorite music to escape anxiety while getting lost in its rhythms.Get More Recipes In Your Inbox!