How to Make Healthy Pancakes That Actually Taste Good
Of all the breakfast foods out there, pancakes could easily be deemed the most reliable. They cost chump change compared to avocado toast; can be made sweet, savory, or a combination of both unlike an omelet; and, time and time again, have given you the sustenance you need after a night of drinking.
Not to mention, a stack of classic pancakes does offer a few health perks, including a major boost of energy, thanks to all the carbohydrates, says Stephanie Nelson, M.S., R.D., an in-house nutrition expert at MyFitnessPal. The meal also provides a little bit of muscle-building, hunger-quelling protein from the eggs and milk, she explains. But sadly for all the flapjack fanatics out there, traditional pancakes don't offer much in terms of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and most importantly, fiber, and missing out on these nutrients could lead to some unpleasant side effects, says Nelson. "Starting off your day with something low in fiber and protein and high in sugar and carbohydrates can throw off your blood sugar and hunger cues for the rest of the day," she explains.
When you wolf down sugars or carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose (aka blood sugar) — the main source of energy for your body's cells, tissues, and organs, according to the National Library of Medicine — which then enters the bloodstream. As your blood sugar levels rise, your pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that tells cells to absorb that sugar for energy, which in turn helps blood sugar levels fall and return to homeostasis, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. The concern with eating carb-heavy flapjacks: "Sometimes the overproduction of insulin will lead to a blood sugar crash," says Nelson. "You become hungry for another meal quickly, and you might opt for something sugary again to correct the low blood sugar." (Related: These Benefits of Fiber Make It the Most Important Nutrient In Your Diet)
Thankfully, pancakes are like a blank canvas, so it's easy to incorporate good-for-you ingredients that can help slow the rise in blood sugar and keep you fueled all day long, says Christina Meyer-Jax, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., a health advisor for Lifesum and Gympass. (Case in point: These protein-packed pancakes.)
To take the nutritional content of your flapjacks up a notch, steal these tips on how to make healthy pancakes from nutrition pros. And remember, you don't have to stop noshing on syrup-smothered, white flour-filled pancakes if you don't want to. "If you feel like you eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains during the week and on the weekend, you just want to go out to the diner and have that stack of pancakes with your butter and syrup, go for it!" says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a Shape Brain Trust member. "It shouldn't be that you feel that you have to eliminate pancakes from your diet — but you have to see how you can make them fit into your day and entire week."
Rethink Your Mix
You don't have to start from scratch in order to craft a nutritious flapjack, but you do need to take a hard look at your pre-made mix's ingredients before you add it to your cart. Some commercial pancake mixes contain trans fats — the type that can raise LDL cholesterol (the "bad" kind) and lower HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind), ultimately raising risk for heart disease, says Nelson.
For trans-fat-free, hearty pancakes straight out of a box, Nelson turns to Kodiak Cakes' Buttermilk Power Cakes (Buy It, $5, walmart.com) almost daily. "At 14 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and minimal added sugar, it makes for a perfect balanced breakfast, and they taste naturally sweet," she says. "I add blueberries to the pancakes for a serving of fruit and extra sweetness, and have a scrambled egg on the side to round out my protein to 20 grams at breakfast. It keeps me full all morning and gives me the energy I need." (Related: This Copycat Kodiak Pancake Mix Is Just As Delicious As the Real Deal)
Similarly, Meyer-Jax recommends Bob's Red Mill's Protein Pancake and Waffle Mix (Buy It, $24 for 4, amazon.com), a whole wheat blend that packs 15 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and just 1 gram of added sugar per serving. And for a gluten-free, dairy-free stack, she suggests Simple Mills' Almond Flour Pancake and Waffle Mix (Buy It, $7, amazon.com), which boasts 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber and contains almond flour, coconut flour, arrowroot (a starch that keeps the cakes light and fluffy), and coconut sugar.
Sub Whole Grains for Refined Flour
Making healthy pancakes from scratch can be as simple as swapping all or half of your white flour for one made from 100 percent whole grains, says Gans. "Using white flour is a missed opportunity to get whole grains, which have proven health benefits," she explains. "The whole grains that are high in fiber, specifically, can help possibly lower cholesterol levels, improve digestive health, prevent constipation, and regulate blood sugars."
You can't go wrong with whole wheat flour (Buy It, $5, amazon.com), which provides 5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein per 1/4 cup, but buckwheat flour (Buy It, $10, amazon.com) has become a popular choice for pancakes, says Gans. The flour lends a slightly earthy, nutty flavor, plus it packs 9 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per 1/4 cup. If you're up to do a little experimenting, try quinoa flour (Buy It, $17, amazon.com), which offers 2 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per 1/4 cup, suggests Gans. (Related: 8 New Types of Flour — and How to Bake with Them)
No matter which whole grain flour you choose to use, know your pancakes might be a little more dense than usual. To get them back to their supremely fluffy state, Nelson recommends using buttermilk instead of regular milk or adding a teaspoon or two of vinegar to your standard milk to make it more acidic. "The acidity of the buttermilk or vinegar-milk will react with the baking soda to make fluffier pancakes," she explains. "[You can also] prevent your pancakes from becoming too tough by minimally mixing — you don't even have to get all the lumps out!"
Make Nutritions Additions to Your Batter
One of the more intuitive tips on how to make healthy pancakes is to naturally sweeten them with fruit. By tossing blueberries, sliced strawberries, or ripe bananas into the batter, you'll not only need to use less sugar (or none at all), but you'll also reap all the health benefits that come with them, says Gans. Fresh berries, for example, offer fiber, phytonutrients (compounds in plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties), and key vitamins, adds Meyer-Jax.
To jack up the protein content, Meyer-Jax suggests adding a scoop of collagen peptides, while Nelson recommends incorporating some of your go-to protein powder or powdered peanut butter (which also provides filling healthy fats) into your mix. Better yet, "mix in extra eggs to add more protein or add ricotta cheese to make them creamier, more filling, and have more protein," says Nelson. And for extra-moist flapjacks, fold some yogurt (which offers calcium and protein) or sweet potato puree (which provides antioxidants) into the batter, suggests Gans.
Swap Your Syrup for Other Toppings
While Gans personally sticks with classic pancakes that don't feature any of these healthy twists, she does ditch syrup and butter in favor of two poached eggs. "The protein in the eggs helps you stay satiated longer, and if you do them poached and runny, it moistens the pancakes so butter and syrup aren't even needed," she explains. If eggs aren't your jam, Gans recommends topping your flapjacks with nut butter or crushed nuts, while Nelson suggests spreading on some Greek yogurt mixed with berries. You can even give your pancakes the toast treatment and finish off your stack with a few slices of avocado, says Meyer-Jax.
Consider Sugar Alternatives
If you have a serious sweet tooth and want to dial back on syrup, but simply can't be satisfied by a few chunks of fruit, you may consider incorporating sugar alternatives such as sucralose, Stevia, or allulose, which have little to no calories and don't spike blood sugar, says Gans. You could also use erythritol — a zero-calorie sugar alcohol that isn't known to cause digestive upset as can happen with other sugar alcohols, she says.
No matter which ideas on how to make healthy pancakes you decide to put into action, know that it's totally OK to nosh on a traditional stack if you have a hankering for it. Plus, there are ways you can enjoy the real deal and still make pancakes a bit better for you, too. "We're always telling people they have to change their habits, but what if you don't want to have whole wheat flour or buckwheat?" says Gans. "Sometimes we have to meet them where they already are, so maybe that means doing a smaller serving or cutting back on the butter and syrup."