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In Battle of the Pancakes, Powerful Protein and Whole Grains Win

National Pancake Day also features fundraiser that can boost CU Anschutz research

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Written by Debra Melani on February 25, 2020

Mmmmmmm. Pancakes. Who doesn’t love the Homer Simpson favorite?

But before you plop down in your favorite restaurant booth and order up a stack that rivals Homer’s pile, you might want to check this out.

Giving a nod to this month’s National Pancake Day (Feb. 25), we asked a resident expert to pit a traditional buttermilk pancake recipe against a newer health-focused boxed version, called Kodiak Cakes.

Based on Staci Lupberger’s expert comparison, you might want to keep the fluffy, golden restaurant type to one day a year. But don’t despair. The registered dietitian has some tricks for making them a bit healthier if you must partake.

Buttermilk vs. whole grain

“The buttermilk recipe uses all-purpose, refined flour, whereas the Kodiak Cakes use 100 percent whole-grain flour,” said Lupberger, Wellness and Weight Loss Programs manager with the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.


“With the whole-grain wheat, you are going to get more fiber and protein, and you are going to metabolize the whole grain at slower rates, whereas refined grains are metabolized quickly into glucose, causing blood sugar to rise and not satiating you like whole grains.”

‘There's more than twice as much protein in a serving of Kodiak Cakes than in buttermilk pancakes, and you are getting five times as much fiber.’

– Staci Lupberger, registered dietitian

Translation: Your blood sugar levels stay on a healthier, more even keel. Studies have linked refined foods, such as white flour, with heart disease and diabetes.

If you still really want that refined but fluffy version, sprinkle fruit and granola on top for more fiber, Lupberger said. Or add a touch of peanut or almond butter for a protein boost, another area in which the Kodiak Cakes beat their more traditional competitor.

“There’s more than twice as much protein in a serving of Kodiak Cakes than in buttermilk pancakes, and you are also getting five times as much fiber,” Lupberger said.

Your arteries might also thank you if you side with a heathier mix on the market today, which, Lupberger notes, include more options than just Kodiak (e.g., Arrowhead Mills Buttermilk). “A Kodiak Cake has almost four times less fat and doesn’t contain any saturated fat,” Lupberger said.

Choose syrup wisely

Still want the golden goodness? At least watch the butter, Lupberger said. And just as importantly, choose your syrup (another dietary nemesis) wisely.

“Use pure maple syrup,” Lupberger said. While it’s still a sucrose, like honey or agave, it’s natural and comes with big benefits over the often high-fructose-laden versions on store shelves.

“Pure maple syrup is filled with antioxidants and other nutrients, such as zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium,” Lupberger said.

“Keep in mind that even the pure syrup has about 200 calories per quarter-cup,” she said, so she still advises against dousing your stack.

But, with some changes, Lupberger’s bottom line is: You can have your cake and eat it, too. “If you do your homework, you can find (or, of course, make) healthy versions,” she said.


Pancake Day or Fat Tuesday? They’re one in the same

Also called Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday, “Pancake Day” dates back to the 13th century, arising from a Lent-preparing tradition. In an attempt to clear the shelves of rich, fat-laden ingredients before giving up gluttonous foods for 40 days, pancakes became a celebratory last supper.


Help CU Anschutz researchers beat leukemia: Eat pancakes

Today’s more commercial version of the day, National Pancake Day, now includes a free buttermilk short stack for IHOP customers. IHOP encourages donations to a few select charities in exchange, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).

That makes some researchers, including our own James DeGregori, PhD, happy. Using a SCOR grant from LLS, he and a distinguished team of CU Anschutz blood disorders experts investigate how people suffering with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) build resistance to therapies.

“For about 40% of kids and 85% of adults with AML, while a treatment may initially eliminate most AML cells, the disease will relapse in a much more lethal state,” DeGregori said.  “Understanding how this happens should lead to interventions to prevent it. The LLS has been behind THE major breakthroughs in leukemia research.”

Led by Craig Jordan, PhD, other project leaders include Clay Smith, Dan Pollyea, Terry Fry and Eric Pietras.

Topics: Research, Education