Time was, the mention of bran muffins brought on a snicker, but the value of brans and whole grains in our diet goes well past "digestive health."
The obvious beneﬁt of wheat or oat bran is ﬁber. Lots of ﬁber. I’ll talk about that later in this article. But nothing beats that warm, nutty ﬂavor that wheat bran imparts to baked goods or sprinkled over cereal or casserole. Something really good for you also tastes good! Brans also provide vitamins and minerals. Wheat bran has been studied as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, and high blood pressure; oat bran helps burn excess fat and cholesterol, and may be helpful with high blood pressure.
Bran is the hard outer layer surrounding the kernel (which contains the germ). All grains have bran, but wheat, oat, and rice are the main choices in today’s nutrition-conscious populations. The push to enjoy whole-grains in our diets, and eliminate white ﬂour from our baking and purchased products, stems from the fact that the vitamins, minerals, and ﬁber are all contained in that outer shell. Processing grains to make white ﬂour removes the bran, leaving only the starchy, low-nutrient portion of the grain. “Over half of the vitamins B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and ﬁber are lost” during this process, according to the George Mateljan Foundation for the World’s Healthiest Foods.
Wheat bran According to the USDA Nutrition Database, wheat bran not only provides the above vitamins and minerals, but also some other minerals we need in our diet: manganese (very high percent), magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium. Wheat bran contains 1% of the DV of saturated fat, but also provides us with the healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Wheat bran is delicious used in mufﬁns, cookies, and casseroles. Try adding some wheat bran to the crumb topping on green bean casserole or au gratin potatoes. Yum!
Oat bran For those individuals with celiac disease or other gluten allergies, oat bran is the answer. Gluten is one of the proteins found in most cereals. Oat bran contains no gluten and can be used as an alternative; just be certain to buy product from mills that do not use the same machinery for their wheat processing. Unlike wheat bran, oat bran has no taste of its own, so can be used in baking and cooking without altering the original ﬂavor.
One cup of raw oat bran provides only 6% DV saturated fat, no cholesterol or sodium, 16 grams of protein, and up to 14 grams of dietary ﬁber. It is a good source of iron and provides some calcium as well. Vitamins and minerals include signiﬁcant amounts of Thiamin, Manganese (265% DV), Phosphorus (69% DV), Selenium (61% DV), and Magnesium (55% DV) as well as iron, potassium, zinc, and copper.
The Obvious Fiber is a crucial part of our diet and a great many of us simply don’t get enough in the food we eat on a regular basis. Daily recommendation is between 25 and 35 grams per day; most Americans get only about 15 grams, according to Katheleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on WebMD.
Fiber is of two kinds: soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (passes through digestion relatively unchanged). For purposes of good intestinal health, insoluble ﬁber is the choice; the addition of this type of ﬁber to one’s diet increases the bulk in the intestines and speeds up the process of elimination of waste. Wheat bran is a good source of insoluble ﬁber.
On the other hand, soluble ﬁber bulks up in the stomach, providing a full feeling; it slows down the digestion and is helpful in weight control. Soluble ﬁber has also been found to affect blood sugar and insulin sensitivity in diabetes treatment. Oat bran is a good source of soluble ﬁber.
Warnings Wheat bran can interact with digoxin (Lanoxin), a prescription drug used to treat congestive heart failure and other heart conditions. Fiber can decrease the absorption of the medication and decrease its effectiveness. Discuss your use of wheat bran with your physician. (WebMD)
Too much bran (i.e., ﬁber) too fast will lead to bloating, cramps, and gas, so add these supplements to your diet gradually.
Let’s give bran a good name! Here are a couple of great recipes using wheat and oat bran. Important Note: bran meals can become rancid quickly if not refrigerated or frozen. Seal the package tightly in a good-quality freezer bag.
To Die-For Oat Bran Mufﬁns 12 mufﬁns
3/4 cup whole wheat ﬂour 1/2 cup oat bran 1/4 cup Splenda brown sugar blend 1 tsp baking powder 1 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp baking soda 1 small very ripe banana, mashed (about 1/2 cup) 1/2 cup low fat vanilla yogurt 1 egg or equivalent egg substitute (1/4 cup) 2 Tbsp canola oil 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 1/2 cup shredded carrot 1/2 cup chopped dates 1/2 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
Lightly grease a mufﬁn tin, or line with paper-cups. Preheat oven to 400˚F Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine liquid ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add liquid, mixing well. Stir in carrots, dates and nuts. Fill mufﬁn cups 2/3 full, then bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, or until toothpick in center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on rack, or eat warm!
Best Ever Fruity Oatmeal Cookies 3 dozen cookies
1/2 cup I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 medium egg 2 tsp vanilla extract 2 Tbsp molasses 1 cup whole wheat ﬂour 3/4 cup rolled oats, regular NOT quick 1/3 cup wheat bran 2 tsp cinnamon 1 tsp baking soda 1/2 cup dried cranberries (or raisins if you prefer)
Lightly grease baking sheets. Preheat oven to 350˚F. In large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla, and molasses. Blend well. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and fruit. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture and blend well. Drop by spoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes. Remove from baking sheet immediately and cool on wire rack. To maintain crispness, store in tightly-covered container.
Assorted muffins: Public domain, work of US Department of Health and Human Resources, Wikimedia Commons
Toni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.