Is granola good for you? Seems like a simple question on the surface, but it turns out to be surprisingly complicated.
Here’s what to know about granola, and why you want to look carefully at the label on your granola before pouring yourself a big bowl of this crunchy breakfast staple. Your health will thank you!
So, Is Granola Good For You?
Does your family enjoy granola? If so, you’ll want to get the skinny on how to make granola a healthy option — rather than the opposite.
For many people, granola falls into a broad category they think of as “health food,” probably because it was something that gained popularity in the 1970s when it was sold at places called “health food stores.” It acquired a halo of health because it was associated with crunchy people who ate then-unusual things like tofu and kale.
I hate to burst your bubble, but I’m afraid most granola is anything but health food. Most granola is actually pretty darn unhealthy.
Note that I say most. You can actually make healthy granola yourself if you know what you’re doing.
Read on to find out why granola and granola bars are among the top “healthy” foods that nutritionists and the general public disagree about.
Why isn’t most granola good for you?
The first and foremost problem with granola — even granolas made by “natural” brands — is SUGAR. Most of us eat waaaaaaay too much sugar every day.
Read the label of pretty much any granola, and you’ll find a decent amount of sugar per serving, sometimes a truly astonishing amount, like this one I found in the bulk aisle of my local coop.
Some seem better, with only 5 or so grams of added sugar per serving, but notice that the serving size is much smaller, too:
So it’s really important to pay attention to the size of a serving. Some are listed as only 1/4 cup, which is an extremely small serving!
If a “serving” is only a quarter or a third of a cup, you’re likely having 3-4 times that much sugar when you dump granola into your cereal bowl.
Here’s what a 1/4 cup serving looks like alongside the more generous 1 1/2 cup serving of a less-dense, low-sugar cereal. Not that I’m saying you should have Os for breakfast, but which one would you choose if presented with these two options?
Seriously, you’d laugh (or maybe cry?) if someone gave you that bowl on the left and called it breakfast, wouldn’t you?
You’d probably fill up your bowl to the level of the one on the right, add some milk and call it good. Most of us would.
But if you’re having a cup and a half of granola each morning, even one that seems low in sugar, you’ve probably just gotten as much (or even more) than you should have in an entire day!
Here’s what to know about how much sugar per day is OK.
Good or Bad Granola? Check the Oils
Most commercial granola is made with processed vegetable oils like canola.
Here are some reasons to avoid these oils whenever possible.
All that oil and sugar means you’re probably taking in hundreds more calories than you think when you choose granola, not a great thing for maintaining a healthy weight. Over the course of the year, those bowls of granola could add up to many extra pounds you’re carrying around!
Is Granola Good For You? Phytic Acid in Grains
Grains, seeds and nuts in most granolas have large amounts of phytic acid.
Phytic acid, or phytates, can interfere with nutrient absorption, of concern especially if you eat primarily a plant-based diet.
Phytic acid can be removed with proper preparation, which involves soaking grains, nuts, and seeds.
So check the label on your favorite and take stock: Is your granola good for you? Or is actually sugar and oil-laden junk food?
Once you’ve done that, you might be inclined to start making your own healthier granola. Here’s how.
How to Make Healthy Homemade Granola
If you love granola, but you aren’t thrilled with its nutritional shortcomings, you’ll be relieved to know there are some relatively straightforward ways to make granola a whole lot healthier.
These homemade granola recipes are a great place to start. They involve one extra step of soaking your ingredients to make your granola as healthy as possible. Soaking grains lowers phytic acid and helps make the nutrients more available.
I recommend going as easy on the sweetener as you can. Even if you make your granola with honey or maple syrup, you still don’t want to blow through your sugar budget for the day before breakfast is over, right?
Yes, honey and maple syrup are less processed than white sugar or corn syrup, but you still need to count them towards your added sugars for the day. A giant pile of honey-sweetened granola will still bust your sugar budget pretty quickly.
Use organic ingredients whenever possible to keep pesticides out of your breakfast bowl.
If you’re not up for making your own granola, here’s a soaked and sprouted low-sugar option.
Is Granola Good For You? It can be if it’s made right!
Here are some soaked granola recipes to try next time you’re hankering for granola. They’re full of nutritious, real-food ingredients so you can consider your granola healthy again!
Some are grain free, and most are gluten-free as long as you use gluten-free certified oats. Oats are naturally gluten-free, though sometimes they can get contaminated during processing. (where to buy gluten-free oats)
Homemade Granola Recipes
♦ Grain Free Apple Cinnamon Granola (Raising Generation Nourished)
♦ Cinnamon Maple Pecan Granola (Butter For All)
♦ Homemade Soaked Granola (Learning and Yearning)
♦ Soaked Maple Nut Granola (Traditional Cooking School)
♦ Honey Rhubarb Granola (Raising Generation Nourished)
♦ Cranberry Buckwheat Granola (Whole New Mom)
♦ Coconut Macadamia Granola (Butter For All)
♦ Paleo Chocolate Granola (Traditional Cooking School)
♦ Simple Cinnamon Granola (Raising Generation Nourished)
♦ Granola Cookies (Common Sense Home)
So, how about it: Is your granola good for you? Or not so much?
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Photo credits: JESHOOTS-com, Eat Beautiful, Raising Generation Nourished, Caproche