Granola: Healthy or Not?

Dear Leah Renee, 

I love granola and eat it almost every morning with some yogurt or sometimes as a snack to take with me to work or on the road.  Recently a friend told me it wasn’t as healthy as I thought, and I too noticed it’s not exactly assisting in my weight loss efforts.  Is it really bad?!  I thought granola was healthy!  Help.  Thanks.  –Kristy, AL

Today we are inundated with information on what is or is not good for us.  Eat this!  Don’t eat that!  Between television commercials, online posts, talk shows, articles, and what the actual food packages are telling us, sometimes we can get confused, frustrated, or give up all together on what a healthy option even is anymore.  Recently there’s been information telling us that we cannot even trust a label marked ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ because that can have various meanings as well.

So why is it debatable whether granola is healthy or not?  Granola IS healthy, right?!  Sure.  It is.  And it’s not.  It depends what you do to it.  I suppose it’s just like anything else; let’s take broccoli for example.  Broccoli is a picture perfect vegetable.  It’s tasty (OK, that’s for you to determine–I like it), a cancer fighter, low in calories, and versatile since it goes with so many dishes, or can be one of it’s own.  But what happens when you take this green picture of health and make a broccoli and cheese casserole out of it, drowning in cheese and cream?  Not so healthy.  Granola is the same.  The main ingredient, oats, are indeed healthy; wholegrain, high in fiber, and good for the heart.  It is all the additional items that can make it a sugar loaded, fat loaded, high calorie meal or snack.  Before you read any further, I want to secure that not all granola is bad.  Depending how you make it at home, or which store bought one you go with, it can be a tasty option to have on its own or a part of a balanced meal.

granola yogurt bowl

So why is this debatable again?  Let’s have a look at some items that can be, or are often added when making granola: brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, glucose syrup, molasses, oil (various types), fruit juice, cocoa, peanut butter, salt, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, flax seeds, and various other grains such as wheat germ, rye flakes, and barley.  When many of these items are combined together, that is how it results in a calorie fest.  This goes for granola bars as well.

There are 3 great ways to ensure you are getting the best granola in terms of nutritional content and calorie content: read labels, ingredient control (so choosing just a few ingredients to include rather than the kitchen sink), and portion control.  Reading labels is not so easy either if you’re not entirely sure what it is you’re looking out for!  Store bought granola is often portioned out and labeled per 1/4 cup (equating to about 30 grams), and can vary between 120 calories a serving up to 400+ calories.  It’s best to find one that’s 150 calories or less, and not more than 5 grams of sugar.  If it’s portioned per 1/2 cup, or 60 grams, just double that.

Now that you know around what you’re getting there, keep it in mind when pairing your granola of choice with a little yogurt or milk.  Your best bet, if you are having a half a cup granola and minding your calories, choose some unsweetened almond milk and sprinkle some cinnamon on top  for some extra flavor and antioxidants.  A cup of unsweetened almond milk is about 40 calories, and you can even choose an unsweetened vanilla variety for an extra kick.  If you want to go with a 1/4 cup of granola, go ahead and add that on top of your favorite yogurt; I like Fage Greek yogurt.

Store bought granola suggestions:

store bought granolaWant to make your own?  Try my simple two ingredient granola recipe.

So, the next time you are going to have some granola for breakfast or a snack on the road, you can make a conscious decision as to which one you will choose, or have fun making your own at home!  And remember, the more simple, the better!

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