In the meantime, has the color red caught your eye this month? Maybe you noticed a co-worker sporting a red sweater or little crimson ribbons pinned onto handbags and clothing. Well, it’s not in celebration of our favorite Hallmark holiday, but instead, in spirit of the American Heart Association’s campaign for American Heart Month. Their annual crusade to raise heart health awareness is in full swing this February and with good reason: More women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. Unreal. Considering I always associated heart attacks with middle-aged men, this statistic was a moment of reckoning.
I have heart disease in my family, along with cancer and diabetes, but these black clouds looming overhead don’t make me feel too “special” per se. In this day and age, most people I know have one or some combination of the threatening three in their family tree. If you, like me, feel like you may have gotten – to put it bluntly – a little genetically shafted, have no fear. You can take charge of your destiny with a few simple preventative measures:
- Don’t smoke: It increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancers. Need I say more?
- Drink in moderation: Excessive drinking increases blood pressure, which can lead to heart failure or stroke.
- Eat well: Fiber-rich whole grains, good fats, fruits and veggies, and lean protein do a body good.
- Get moving: All it takes is 30 minutes a day on most days to see the effects. That’s as simple as a stroll on your lunch break, using the stairs everywhere you go, or a quick yoga DVD. And, P.S. – make it enjoyable! That’s the key to making exercise an enduring part of your lifestyle instead of a short-term fad.
So, the trend here is that these measures are all within your power! Wouldn’t you much rather make a few smart choices instead of being a slave to prescription drugs and worries about your health? I would. While you can’t help what you’re genetically predisposed to, you can help keep those diseases at bay with a proactive approach to your health. Here’s to our hearts!
In the spirit of good food choices, I bring you a heart healthy bran muffin spiked with lemon zest and blackberries. There’s so much flavor in these little nuggets, you won’t even realize you’re doing your heart a favor with oodles of fiber rich whole grains…
blackberry + lemon bran muffins
Yields 12 – 14 muffins
Adapated from Heidi Swanson’s bran muffin recipe in Super Natural Every Day
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup barely melted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
Zest of a lemon
1/2 cup unprocessed wheat or oat bran
1 1/2 cups plain, unsweetened bran cereal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
3 Tbsp. ground flax seed
1 1/2 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen and thawed
Preheat the oven to 400-degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven. Spray or line and spray a standard muffin pan with olive oil or nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, yogurt, butter, maple syrup, vanilla, and lemon zest. Sprinkle the bran and cereal across the top, stir, and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
In the meantime, in a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flax seed. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the top of the wet and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the blackberries with a rubber spatula until evenly dispersed, careful not to smush. Immediately fill each muffin cup three-quarters full.
Bake for 20 – 24 minutes or until the edges of the muffins begin to brown and the tops have set. Let cool for 5 minute sin the pan and then transfer to a cooling rack. Eat warm for a good time!
A few notes:
- Once I stirred the dry ingredients into the wet, I was nervous. The batter seemed a little too thick to work the blackberries in successfully. Take your time and be gentle – the muffins ended up moist, delicious, and tasty. The thick hearty texture is the nature of the bran-ny beast.
- I’ll admit it – I went to my grocery store and didn’t have a clue about the bran products I was looking for. I ended up finding them in the organic and whole foods section. I went with Bob’s Red Mill oat bran for the bran cereal and was able to find the unprocessed wheat bran in the bulk bins. Bob’s Red Mill also had a larger bag of the latter available.
- Consider topping these muffins with your favorite chopped nuts or seeds and/or subbing in any mixture of your favorite dried fruit for the blackberries.
- I broke my own rules with the blackberries in that I used “fresh” even when they weren’t local or seasonal. It’s definitely not blackberry season in Jersey, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw those deeply colored plump berries eyeing me in the store. In any case, frozen is a really wonderful option because they are picked in season at peak ripeness and flash frozen, maintaining a high nutritional profile.
- I could have gone liner-less with my non-stick pan. However, I wanted that coffee shop look of parchment muffin liners and followed these steps from our friend, Martha.