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!

A Little Goes a Long Way

Dear Leah Renee,

I find that my weight fluctuates a bit, but I don’t like to obsess constantly about exactly how many calories I’m eating.  Isn’t it enough to just eat healthy most of the time?  I like to go out and have a good time with friends, and that usually means eating and drinking too.  Is this all adding up to more than I think?  –Alexa, CO

Small amounts of anything have the ability make large differences in the big picture.  Each day, we make choices that have the ability to impact the way we look and the way we feel– both emotionally and physically.  We can have a little too much each day, exceeding our caloric allowances which makes us put on pounds and feel icky, or we can choose to pass up those little snacks, temptations, or over-eating at a meal just because it tastes good.  If you ever said, “I just want to taste it, have a bite, I’ll share with you, or just give me a little bit, please?!”   We make ourselves feel dainty or think we’re only having small amounts when in actuality we could be having the equivalent of consuming the slice of cake we opted against in the first place.  Calories are calories and by having a “little” here and there, it all adds up at the end.

Our diets are kind of similar to our bank accounts.  It’s wise to remember what your balance is before you go overboard.  A little here and there has the potential to deplete what you worked for.  Going to the coffee shop each day for your coffee rather than brewing your own at home adds up to a lot at the end of each week, month, and year.  So does reaching into that bowl of chips while socializing with friends.  One at a time; one’s a small number!  It becomes a lot larger when you multiply it by 20… or 30.  It’s amazing how much you can really power through while chit-chatting. Choices made on the other end of the spectrum work the same way!  Passing-up makes as much of a difference as giving-in.  Each time you forgo that trip to the coffee shop, the more you’ll save and have to spend on something you may have been wanting for a while (you know, like that pair of shoes).  The same goes with that bowl of chips.  You can get a small plate and put some on there so you know how much you’re actually eating, or choose something else instead (or don’t eat if you’re not actually hungry).  Save those calories for that dessert or meal that you’ll end up craving at some point or another.  We only get a certain allowance each day, and we must budget accordingly.

Unfortunately, drinking can also be a major contributor to overdoing your daily allowance.  Knowing what you’re working with in the first place as far as what drinks contain the least and most amount of calories helps.  It becomes more like second nature when you’re familiar with what the things you typically have contain, and what your daily allowance actually is.  Then you don’t feel like you have to be a mathematician or obsess all day about each little thing you consume.  This past post highlights what drinks have what calories and the best way to pair them up.  The easiest way to know how many calories you can have each day is to multiply what you want to weight by 13.   If you’re active, then multiply by 15.  If you’re really active (like burn it up each day of the week), multiply by 20.  Just by knowing this information I feel like you can relax a little because you’re aware.  The rest is easy, well, sort of.  You don’t have to give to much thought about eating an apple, having a veggie omelette, or some shrimp with cocktail sauce.  If you are having something you know is high in calories, like something fried or soaked in sauce, then it’s the volume (and frequency of which you have these foods) you should think about.  For instance, if I meet up with friends at a Mexican restaurant, chips happen.  So, instead of ordering a meal on top of that, I look at what side dishes they have to offer.  I mean, if you ordered a bunch of appetizers at a meal you wouldn’t go on to have for a full course meal, and chips with salsa (or guac) are an appetizer just the same.  Go for a side of black beans and veggies for your meal, or ceviche.  Even the salads can be deceiving because they usually have sour cream, cheese, rice, and loads of other things in there.  If it’s a sushi dinner you’re going out to, pick just one roll you want, and then if that’s not enough, fill up on veggies/salad, sashimi, edamame, and/or miso soup.

Simply staying conscious and mindful of EACH choice you make is the BEST way to live up to your own expectations.  Let’s face it, nobody else can make these decisions for you nor will they have to pay for it, or reap the benefits of it, later.  Remember, a little goes a long way.

Are All Milks Created Equal?

Hi Leah Renee!  

I have been feeling  a little overwhelmed lately at all the milk options at the grocery store.  Some of my friends drink almond milk, some drink soy…which kind of milk is best for me? ~Nel, RI

The milk section of the grocery store seems to have spread from a small refrigerated section at one point in time to now taking up an entire aisle of the grocery store (in addition to the refrigerated area)! More options can lead to more confusion.  Not only are there different kinds of milk to choose from, there are different variations of them too (full-fat, low fat, non-fat or skim, chocolate or vanilla, sweetened or unsweetened?!)!  To top it all off, there are so many different brands all promising the best if we choose theirs!  With all the varieties out there we wonder if we’re choosing the ‘right’ one.

Truth be told, there is not one in particular that is right for all of us, but there will be one or more that is right for each of us.  So long as we know what each one has to offer, we can make an educated decision based on our own diet preferences, restrictions…or mood!.   It may also help cut down all that extra time spent staring at and inspecting each label while we’re grocery shopping.  If you are consuming one (or more) of these beverages daily, I recommend choosing one that is low in sugar (there are unsweetened vanilla options that are quite tasty) and something lower in calories.

Here are your options:

Goat’s Milk

  • A nutritious, allergy-free alternative to cow’s milk
  • Contains high levels of calcium and protein for strong bones  (a cup of goat’s milk supplies 32% of the daily value for calcium—higher than cow’s milk at 27%)
  • Easy to digest (and great for babies with colic and/or frequent vomiting)
  • Been known to prevent migraine headaches (it is a natural anti-inflammatory)
  • High in potassium which is  important in maintaining healthy blood pressure
  • Promotes energy production (from the Riboflavin otherwise known as B2) and heart health

Nutrition Facts (one cup): 89 calories, 2.4g fat, 9.4g sugar, 7.39g protein

By the way, I know the topic is Milk here…but Goat’s Milk soap is INCREDIBLE.  Leaves skin silky smooth and it’s natural.  Love it.

Fun Fact: About 65% of the milk consumed around the globe comes from goat’s milk.

Soy Milk 

  • A good alternative to cow’s milk since it does not contain lactose
  • Provides vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron
  • Fortified soy milk contains vitamin D (helps with calcium absorption and good for immune function), B12 (for energy), calcium, and potassium (great for muscles and nerves)
  • If you choose the chocolate or vanilla versions…well…you get a healthy(-er) treat.  Also available in regular, unsweetened, and organic.
  • Depending on the one you choose, in can contain less calories and sugar than cow’s milk.  Regular versions tend to be on par with cow’s milk as far as calorie and sugar content goes.
  • PLEASE choose the organic variety.  Just say no to GMO’s–and from what we’re told organic does not contain any.

Nutrition Facts (one cup of Unsweetened): 80 calories, 4g fat, 2g sugar, 7g protein

Due to GMO’s, be sure to choose organic soy milk when making your selection. Earth BalanceTrader Joe’s Organic Original Soy Milk, Whole Foods Organic Soy Milk, and Organic Valley Unsweetened Soy Milk are all good options.

Almond Milk

  • Another good alternative to cow’s milk (no lactose)
  • Low calorie content
  • Limited affects on blood sugar levels
  • Contains 50% of the daily allowance vitamin E, great for the skin
  • A great form of Calcium (not only because of almonds themselves, but it’s fortified)
  • No cholesterol
  • Great if you follow a vegan diet

Make it yourself!!!  One cup nuts per 4 cups of water.
Soaking them first reaps the best outcome; whether you have one hour to soak them or 8, any amount of soaking will suffice, but more is best!

Little tip:  Pour your almond milk into an ice cube tray for homemade ice cream and smoothies!!!

Nutrition Facts (one cup of unsweetened): 40 calories, 3.5g fat, 0g sugar, 1g protein

*As you can see, there is a negligible amount of protein found in almond milk.  If you are used to having another type of milk (with protein) and decide to switch to this one, make sure to be mindful and add a little protein to your diet so you’re not missing out.

Rice Milk 

What you get:

  • A high-carb alternative to cow’s milk or if you have soy allergies
  • Free of cholesterol and saturated fat
  • Fortified versions will give you some calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, iron, and magnesium though not to the extend of other options
  • A smooth, mild taste

Nutrition Facts (one cup): 120 calories, 2.5g fat, 10g sugar, 1g protein
*Just like the Almond Milk, there is a negligible amount of protein found in Rice Milk.  Unless you really just enjoy the flavor of rice milk or have particular reasons to have it and not another type of milk, I would probably not make this a first choice due to its calorie and sugar content.

Cow’s Milk 

What you get:

  • A great amount of calcium and vitamin D; studies show calcium-rich dairy foods have the ability to boost the body’s burning of fat after a meal
  • A good source of protein
  • A good source of riboflavin (B2) and B12, both great for energy production
  • Can help promote thyroid function with its iodine content
  • A good source of vitamin A

*Just like soy milk, it’s really important to select organic milk free of added hormones.

*Raw Cow’s Milk can be found in some health stores across the country and farmer’s markets.  It contains many health benefits including all 20 standard amino acids.  Many people who find it difficult to digest milk may notice they’re able to digest raw milk without any problem at all.  That decision is up to you, as consuming raw anything can come with its risks.

Nutrition Facts (one cup of 2%): 120 calories, 3.5g fat, 12g sugar, 8g protein
*There are different varieties from whole milk to non-fat and the nutrition facts will vary depending.  More fat = less sugar.  Less fat = more sugar.

Hemp Milk 

  • Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
  • All 10 essential amino acids
  • No Cholesterol
  • Vitamin A, vitamin D, B12, vitamin E, iron, and calcium because it’s fortified
  • An earthy taste
  • Vegan friendly

Nutrition Facts (one cup, Unsweetened Vanilla): 70 calories, 6g fat, 0g sugar, 2g protein

*Hemp Milk has a very earthly taste.  Great to use as the base liquid for smoothies.  I’ve personally had some very decent tasting mint chip hemp ice cream!

Coconut Milk

  • A tasty dairy alternative
  • Nut free, gluten free, vegan
  • A low calorie beverage that’s great for smoothies or a yummy alternative for sugary drinks = weight loss!
  • A range of vitamins and minerals.  It contains a substantial amount of B12 (energy!), magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
  • Medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs).  There is not a negative effect on cholesterol and can help protect against heart disease.  Potential weight loss & control.

Nutrition Facts: 50 calories, 5g fat, 1g sugar, 1g protein

As you can see….there certainly are a lot to choose from!  Depending on whether you’re watching your calorie intake, your sugar intake, are lactose intolerant, or just feel like changing it up, there’s a milk out there for you!  Enjoy one or many!  My personal preferences vary whether I’m making a smoothie, adding it to coffee, or having a warm cup of it before bed like this one.

Cheers!!! 🙂

What milk is your fave??