I recently posted 10 Allegedly Healthy Foods
. The day after posting, I was in a session with a new-ish client. On her food journal I saw she was eating granola. When I inquired about her granola usage she asked “isn’t granola healthy” and I realized I had left a good one off my list. Instead of going into Blogger and editing the post I decided to ask Market Melissa, our grocery store obsessed Foodtrainer, to dish about granola.
When I hear granola, I think Birkenstocks and patchouli. Why the hippie reputation? What’s the history here?
The genesis of granola dates back to the late nineteenth century. A posh health spa in New York served what was called “granula,” which was really just graham flour. A fellow by the name of John Harvey Kellogg (ahem, Mr. Fruit Loop) came along, and to avoid legal action, renamed his own version “granola.” In 60s, hippies revived granola and (after a “plant-based” first course) added in dried fruit and nuts. In the 70s Quaker and General Mills hopped on the granola bandwagon, creating their own varieties. The popularity of granola increased becoming all the rage with hikers and backpackers due to its light weight, caloric density and lack of perishability.
“Calorically dense” those are terrifying words to any dieter, what ingredients make it so caloric?
It is the double whammy of sugar and fat that bump up the calorie count in granola. When reading ingredient lists you may find sugar listed in various forms 4 or 5 times (honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, molasses are all code for sugar) Additionally, there’s dried fruit, also loaded with sugar, and you see how granola can have 24 grams of sugar in 1 cup. In terms of fat, most of the fat in granola comes from healthy, unsaturated sources such as nuts, seeds, and canola oil. “Good” fat is still fat and adds up. Certain varieties of granola contain up to 28 grams of fat per cup. This is a food for which portion control is key. Granola should be a condiment and not a main course.
Other than sugar and fat what else is in granola? Any exciting flavors out there?
Most granola brands contain whole grain oats, oat bran and brown rice. Others, such as Kashi and Feed, contain more of a whole grain blend containing oats, barley, rye, triticale and brown rice. For you gluten free readers, Trader Joe’s offers a gluten free fruit and nut option.
You will also find more processed varieties (containing ingredients such as soy lecithin, glycerin and natural flavor) as well as more natural ones. Feed granola wins my least processed award, containing all “real food” ingredients. As for the flavors, the possibilities are indeed endless. Some that peeked my interest were Bear Naked Heavenly Chocolate and Feed Sweet Mango.
So if someone can’t live without granola, which one do you recommend?
Comparing brands can become tricky since they all have different portion sizes listed on their nutrition label (1/4cup, 1/2cup, 2/3cup, 3/4cup).
- Lowest sugar: Nature’s Path Hemp Plus and Flax Plus wins for the lowest sugar content with 3g per ¼ cup. Bear Naked Fit granola comes in second with 4g.
- Lowest Calorie: Trader Joe’s Low Fat Mixed Berry Granola and Cascadian Farms Cinnamon Raisin granola snag lowest calorie (70 and 80 calories for ¼ cup portion, respectively).
- Highest Fiber Kashi and Feed get highest fiber honors each has 4.5g per ¼ cup (you can thank their whole grain blend for that).
*Whichever you choose remember granola is higher in calories, sugar and fat than most cereals, so keep portion to ¼ cup max.
In case you wish to bypass the mathematical challenge of granola labels, try making your own. This allows you to control ingredients and quantities. Here is recipe from Ellie Krieger
that is easy to make and low in sugar. We doctored this a little adding cardamom and unsweetened coconut but it’s a good starting point.
Or try this cool site where you can make your own granola
. Pick your base (a gluten free option is available), add in your favorite ingredients and they will even calculate the nutrient content of your creation.
Are you a granola gal/guy? Do you have a favorite brand or recipe you love? And name that tune “It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world…”