Livin' on the Far Side: We Have Seen the Future of Healthy Muffins, and Its Name Is Roselle

Lucas Franki, Richard Franki, and Teraya Smith

March 09, 2023

Get 'em while they're hot…for your health

Today on the Eating Channel, it's a very special episode of "Much Ado About Muffin."

The muffin. For some of us, it's a good way to pretend we're not having dessert for breakfast. A bran muffin can be loaded with calcium and fiber, and our beloved blueberry is full of yummy antioxidants and vitamins. Definitely not dessert.

Well, the muffin denial can stop there because there's a new flavor on the scene, and research suggests it may actually be healthy. (Disclaimer: Muffin may not be considered healthy in Norway.) This new muffin has a name, Roselle, that comes from the calyx extract used in it, which is found in the Hibiscus sabdariffa plant of the same name.

Now, when it comes to new foods, especially ones that are supposed to be healthy, the No. 1 criteria is the same: It has to taste good. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Amity University in India agreed, but they also set out to make it nutritionally valuable and give it a long shelf life without the addition of preservatives.

Sounds like a tall order, but they figured it out.

Not only is it tasty, but the properties of it could rival your morning multivitamin. Hibiscus extract has huge amounts of antioxidants, like phenolics, which are believed to help prevent cell membrane damage. Foods like vegetables, flax seed, and whole grains also have these antioxidants, but why not just have a Roselle muffin instead? You also get a dose of ascorbic acid without the glass of OJ in the morning.

The ascorbic acid, however, is not there just to help you. It also helps to check the researcher's third box, shelf life. These naturally rosy-colored pastries will stay mold-free for 6 days without refrigeration at room temperature and without added preservatives.

Our guess, though, is they won't be on the kitchen counter long enough to find out.

A sobering proposition

If Hollywood is to be believed, there's no amount of drunkenness that can't be cured with a cup of coffee or a stern slap in the face. Unfortunately, here in the real world the only thing that can make you less drunk is time. Maybe next time you'll stop after that seventh Manhattan.

But what if we could beat time? What if there's an actual sobriety drug out there?

Say hello to fibroblast growth factor 21. Although the liver already does good work filtering out what is essentially poison, it then goes the extra mile and produces fibroblast growth factor 21 (or, as her friends call her, FGF21), a hormone that suppresses the desire to drink, makes you desire water, and protects the liver all at the same time.

Now, FGF21 in its current role is great, but if you've ever seen or been a drunk person before, you've experienced the lack of interest in listening to reason, especially when it comes from within our own bodies. Who are you to tell us what to do, body? You're not the boss of us! So a group of scientists decided to push the limits of FGF21. Could it do more than it already does?

First off, they genetically altered a group of mice so that they didn't produce FGF21 on their own. Then they got them drunk. We're going to assume they built a scale model of the bar from Cheers and had the mice filter in through the front door as they served their subjects beer out of tiny little glasses.

Once the mice were nice and liquored up, some were given a treatment of FGF21 while others were given a placebo. Lo and behold, the mice given FGF21 recovered about 50% faster than those that received the control treatment. Not exactly instant, but 50% is nothing to sniff at.

Before you bring your FGF21 supplement to the bar, though, this research only applies to mice. We don't know if it works in people. And make sure you stick to booze. If your choice of intoxication is a bit more exotic, FGF21 isn't going to do anything for you. Yes, the scientists tried. Yes, those mice are living a very interesting life. And yes, we are jealous of drugged-up lab mice.

Supersize your imagination, shrink your snacks

Have you ever heard of the meal-recall effect? Did you know that, in England, a biscuit is really a cookie? Did you also know that the magazine Bon Appétit is not the same as the peer-reviewed journal Appetite? We do…now.

The meal-recall effect is the subsequent reduction in snacking that comes from remembering a recent meal. It was used to great effect in a recent study conducted at the University of Cambridge, which is in England, where they feed their experimental humans cookies but, for some reason, call them biscuits.

For the first part of the study, the participants were invited to dine at Che Laboratory, where they "were given a microwave ready meal of rice and sauce and a cup of water," according to a statement from the university. As our Uncle Ernie would say, "Gourmet all the way."

The test subjects were instructed not to eat anything for 3 hours and "then invited back to the lab to perform imagination tasks." Those who did come back were randomly divided into five different groups, each with a different task:

  • Imagine moving their recent lunch at the lab around a plate.

  • Recall eating their recent lunch in detail.

  • Imagine that the lunch was twice as big and filling as it really was.

  • Look at a photograph of spaghetti hoops in tomato sauce and write a description of it before imagining moving the food around a plate.

  • Look at a photo of paper clips and rubber bands and imagine moving them around.

Now, at last, we get to the biscuits/cookies, which were the subject of a taste test that "was simply a rouse for covertly assessing snacking," the investigators explained. As part of that test, participants were told they could eat as many biscuits as they wanted.

When the tables were cleared and the leftovers examined, the group that imagined spaghetti hoops had eaten the most biscuits (75.9 g), followed by the group that imagined paper clips (75.5 g), the moving-their-lunch-around-the-plate group (72.0 g), and the group that relived eating their lunch (70.0 g).

In a victory for the meal-recall effect, the people who imagined their meal being twice as big ate the fewest biscuits (51.1 g). "Your mind can be more powerful than your stomach in dictating how much you eat," lead author Joanna Szypula, PhD, said in the university statement.

Oh! One more thing. The study appeared in Appetite, which is a peer-reviewed journal, not in Bon Appétit, which is not a peer-reviewed journal. Thanks to the fine folks at both publications for pointing that out to us.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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