Bran muffins look like a healthier option in the pastry case, but are they really? While most of the ingredients may offer some health benefits, the problem is that most bran muffins sold in stores and restaurants pack in loads of calories that can wreak havoc on the waistline — and make it awfully hard to fend off that muffin top (not the yummy kind).

Bran Damage — Why It’s Dangerous

Photo by Caitlin Covington

Bran, the outer layer of grains such as oat, rice, and wheat, does have some great benefits: It’s rich in fiber, omega, starch, protein, vitamins and dietary minerals. One serving (about a third of a cup) contains 14 percent of the recommended daily dose of protein and 28 percent of the recommended daily intake of dietary fiber. Some studies show oat bran may also lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels when compared to other types of bran, including from wheatA diet rich in oat bran improves blood lipids and hemostatic factors, and reduces apparent energy digestibility in young healthy volunteers. Kristensen, M., Bugel, S. Department of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhangen, Copenhage, Denmark. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011 Sep;65(9):1053-8.Oat bran as a cholesterol-reducing dietary adjunct in a young, healthy population. Gold, K.V., Davidson, D.M. The Western Journal of Medicine, 1988 Mar;148(3):299-302.. Bread products containing oat bran may also be helpful in controlling diabetes, since studies show it could help control the body’s response to sugar, lessening the body’s glycemic response (or how much insulin the body releases to deal with the carbohydrates in food)Oat bran concentrate bread products improve long-term control of diabetes: a pilot study. Pick, M.E., Hawrysh, Z.J., Gee, M.I., et al. Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1996 Dec;96(12):1254-61..

So what’s the problem with today’s bran muffins — and most muffins in general? They may be made with healthy ingredients, but the real culprit is portion size. Many muffins sold in stores and restaurants are massive, topping out at more than 350 calories each! That’s just as many as some popular types of cream-filled doughnuts. In fact, popular chain Dunkin Donuts’ Honey Bran Raisin muffin clocks in at a whopping 440 calories, while their classic Bavarian Kreme donut is a (comparatively measly) 270 calories. Some bran muffins made with butter and oil contain high amounts of saturated fat, which might have their own health risks when consumed in large amountsDietary fats and cardiovascular health. Carrillo, Fernández, L., Dalmau, Serra J., Martínez Álvarez JR, et al. Centro de Salud La Victoria de Acentejo, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Sociedad Espanola de Medicina Familiar y Comunitaria (semFYC), Spain. Anales De Pediatria 2011 Mar;74(3):192.Saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease: modulation by replacement nutrients. Siri-Tarino, P.W., Sun, Q., Hu, F.B., et al. Atherosclerosis Research, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, CA 94609, USA. Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 2010 Nov;12(6):384-90..

On top of the excess calories and fat, these muffins can also be a source of excess sodium, with some brands containing upwards of 600 milligrams per muffin (or roughly a third of the recommended daily amount). Let’s not forget the extra dab of butter or swipe of jam that makes that muffin even tastier. These extra condiments can add even more excess calories and salt. These muffins may satisfy a sweet tooth, but it’s because they contain another nutritional pitfall — added sugar. Starbucks’ Apple Bran Muffin contains 34 grams of sugar — equivalent to 17 sugar packets! Many bran muffins, like this coffee shop treat, also boast dried fruits such as cranberries, cherries, and raisins. Fruit may be healthy, but beware of it in its dried form – it makes the Greatist dangerfood list due to added chemicals and even more extra sugar.

A Bran New Muffin — Your Action Plan

Bran muffins can be enjoyed as part of a healthy and complete diet — just don’t down three or four in one sitting or make this an every morning treat. If a store-bought muffin is a must, make sure to cut it in half and save the rest for later. To control the ingredients and cut out excess calories (and save some dough), get baking. There are plenty of healthy muffin recipes that taste delicious but won’t result in an overly stuffed stomach. For portion control, try baking with a (super cute) mini-muffin pan. For bran-lovers who want to forgo the muffins, try having bran cereal with low-fat milk and fresh fruit. Or, add wheat bran to waffles, soups and stews, or even oatmeal.

Our Favorite Healthy Bran Recipes from Around the Web:

Low-Fat, High-Fiber Blueberry Bran Muffins via

Maple Bran Waffles via Babble

Chocolate Banana Bran Smoothie via Silk Soy Milk

Whole Wheat Crackers via

Healthy Granola via Yummly