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I always crave banana bread — moist, tender, nut-studded slabs with plenty of butter on top. However, I don’t always crave the calories that come with it. That’s why I have been experimenting with creating a healthier, reduced-fat banana bread that will keep my tummy and hips happy. I have succeeded.

This banana bread is low in fat and calories yet high in fiber, protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Instead of fats such as butter or oil, I used healthier egg whites, low-fat buttermilk, nonfat yogurt and orange juice. Instead of just plain white flour, I used fiber-rich oats, whole wheat flour and omega-3-rich flax seed and walnuts.

The cherries add sweet juiciness to each bite. You could substitute other fresh fruit, such as apples or mangoes, or even opt for dried fruit such as raisins or apricots. Oh, and don’t worry. It tastes great.

Banana, Cherry and

Oatmeal Breakfast Bread

1/2 cup rolled oats (or old-fashioned oatmeal),

toasted

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup light brown sugar

2 large eggs, plus 4 egg whites

1 cup low-fat buttermilk (or low-fat vanilla soymilk)

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Zest of one orange

2 small, very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)

1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved

1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup flax seed or ground flax meal

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Coat two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans with cooking spray.

To toast the oatmeal, place in a dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

In a medium size bowl, whisk the toasted oats, flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat brown sugar and eggs. Add buttermilk, yogurt, orange juice and vanilla; beat until batter is smooth. Lower the speed; add the orange zest and bananas, and beat briefly (it’s OK if the batter has a few lumps).

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, and mix until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the cherries, walnuts and flax seed. The batter will be thick. Pour the batter into the pans. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top is a deep golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Transfer the breads to a rack; let cool for 10 minutes, then unmold and place on a rack to cool to room temperature. Makes 2 loaves

Per slice: 216 calories; 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 17 percent calories from fat); 39 g carbohydrates; 17 g sugar; 24 mg cholesterol; 426 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 3 g fiber.

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