6 Ways To Upgrade Your Pancakes

Give your weekend breakfast staple a healthy twist with these six ingredients.

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For many breakfast lovers, there are few things more joyous about the weekend than having the time to rustle up a batch of pancakes. After all, by the time Saturday rolls around you may have had your fill of oatmeal and eggs. And for athletes, a stack of pancakes can be an ideal way to energize your weekend workouts and races. But pancakes can be so much more than boxed mix and Aunt Jemima. They are ready to welcome all sorts of more inspiring (and nutrition-packed) ingredients. Take your flapjacks up a gastronomic notch with these additions that you’ll flip over.

Spelt Flour

Ditch the nutritionally lackluster all-purpose flour for this whole grain option. Made by grinding up the ancient grain spelt, this power flour has a slightly sweet, nutty taste and will make a stack of flapjacks that are less dense than if regular whole wheat flour was used. Your body will benefit from an added dose of hunger-fighting fiber and manganese, a mineral that plays a crucial role in metabolism.

For the biggest nutrient hit, use whole-grain spelt flour instead of light spelt, which has had some of its bran and germ removed and in turn making it less nutritious overall. Purists will appreciate that in contrast to modern day wheat, spelt has not been hybridized. Spelt flour can spoil more quickly than processed flours and is best stored in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve freshness. You can locate spelt flour at many health food stores and some supermarkets. No luck? Load up your virtual cart at Bobsredmill.com.

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What would cause an increasing legion of athletes to load up their grocery carts with a humble root vegetable synonymous with Borscht? The beet craze is being fueled by research demonstrating that the crimson vegetable can have a performance-enhancing effect. Naturally occurring nitrates in beets can help increase muscle blood flow during exercise thereby reducing the amount of oxygen muscles need at any given work rate and allowing them to use oxygen more efficiently for contraction and energy production. This reduced oxygen cost of exercise results in better exercise tolerance and performance. So it can be a good idea to sneak more beets into your diet where you can.

Since beets are one of the sweetest vegetables around, they can indeed be worked into pancake batter for a fetching stack that doesn’t taste too, well, beety. Here’s how: Steam, boil or roast ½ pound beets until tender. In a large bowl, stir together 1 3/4 cups spelt flour or oat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place cooked beets, ¾ cup milk, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup applesauce and zest of 1 lemon in a blender container and blend until smooth. Pulse in 2 large eggs. Add beet mixture to dry ingredients and gently stir together. Fold in 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips if desired. Let batter rest 10 minutes. For each pancake, add about ¼ cup batter to a greased skillet and cook about 2 minutes per side. Batter can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.

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Almond Butter

This delicious nut butter isn’t just for toast. Adorn your pancakes with an almond butter sauce and you’ll instantly help knock them into nutritional shape. Fatty in a good way, buttery almonds are a standout source of monounsaturated fat which is hailed as being heart-healthy owing to the power to improve cholesterol numbers. The bone-building trio of minerals calcium, magnesium and phosphorus is a nice bonus. Look for brands of almond butter such as the always-reliable Justin’s at most supermarkets and health food shops.

To make a velvety almond sauce for pancakes, blend together 1/3 cup almond butter, 3 tablespoons evaporated milk, 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a blender until creamy. Drizzle on pancakes along with handfuls of fresh berries.

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Like buttermilk, kefir has a tang that makes it an ideal liquid for pancake batter. But where kefir reigns supreme is that it’s colonized by a more robust group of friendly critters known as probiotics. In fact, kefir evens trumps yogurt when it comes to its population of beneficial bugs. Emerging research suggests that athletes in particular can benefit from consuming more probiotics in that they have been shown to slash the risk for infections such as the common cold and digestive issues including leaky gut syndrome that can manifest itself as bloating, gas and diarrhea. With increased interest in probiotics, it’s easier than ever to locate brands of kefir such as Lifeway in the dairy aisle. Look for plain versions to side-step added sugar. It can be a little thicker than buttermilk, so you may need to add more to the pancake batter to make it thin enough to pour into a pan.

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Chia Fruit Jam

No longer just for desk pets, chia seeds have reinvented themselves as a bonafide health food. The diminutive seeds are a good source of dietary fiber, antioxidants and must-have omega fatty acids. In fact, the abundance of soluble fiber in chia swells in the presence of liquid that you can exploit to create a jam-like spread that freshens up pancakes and makes for a breakfast that plays more by the nutritional rules than the typical butter and maple syrup topping. For a more planet-friendly morning repast, select a certified organic brand of chia such as Nutiva.

To make a chia fruit jam, heat 1 1/2 cups raspberries in a saucepan over medium until they begin to breakdown, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons chia seeds, 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice; heat another 2 minutes. Gently mash mixture and let cool to thicken.

RELATED: Four Ways To Use… Chia Seeds

Cacao Powder

Who says you can’t eat dessert for breakfast? By incorporating cacao powder into pancake batter you’ll think you are eating something more indulgent than it is. Cacao powder is plush in potent antioxidants shown to help with everything from reducing blood pressure numbers to lessening skin damage from exposure to the suns UV rays to lowering the oxidative damage in the body that is associated with intense training. In fact, studies have shown that antioxidant levels in cacao powder can be in excess of those found in many fruits and vegetables. For the biggest antioxidant bang for your buck, select raw cacao powder such as Navitas Naturals instead of Dutch-processed cocoa powder which is treated with an antioxidant destroying alkalizing agent. As a nice bonus, cacao is also a good source of magnesium, a mineral that’s been shown to help improve blood sugar control.

For a batch of chocolaty pancakes, mix together 3/4 cup spelt flour or oat flour, 3 tablespoons cacao powder, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and a couple pinches salt. Whisk together 1 large egg with 3/4 cup plain kefir or buttermilk. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Add more liquid if mixture is too thick.

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