The Granola Health Myth – Three Quick Thoughts

Breakfast cereal has been a wildly popular staple of our diet for over a century, but granola, both in a bowl or as a bar, is a much younger phenomena, dating back to the late sixties and the hippie movement. For some reason, a health halo has been shining on granola products for decades, allowing manufacturers to charge a premium. In many cases, the products sold  are not much better, or even worse than sugary cereals and candy bars.

What you need to know:

Here’s why granola’s health halo is not always justified:

1. More calories. While the average breakfast cereal is 100-120 calories, most granolas are 200-250 calories, twice as much. True, granola is much more dense than corn flakes or rice puffs, but if you are trying to cut down on your weight, beware.

2. Not so natural. Many “natural” sounding products are made up of the same ingredients as candy bars  – partially hydrogenated oils (read: trans-fat), artificial colors, and various preservatives. Quaker’s Low-Fat Chocolate Chip Granola has a megillah for an ingredient list, and includes goodies such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, BHT, and artificial flavorings.

3. Sugar. While many granola products names boast titles including “Honey Toasted” and “Maple Syrup”, the lead sweetener  is sugar, not the natural sweetener. And there’s lots of it. Take a look at Cascadian Farms Maple Brown Sugar Granola. Its second ingredient is sugar. Number 6 is brown sugar, and number 8 is Maple. All told, there are 14 grams of sugar per serving, or 3.5 teaspoons! That’s more than Froot Loops or Frosted Flakes.

What to do at the supermarket:

Watch out for the calorie count on your favorite granola cereal/bar. Inspect the ingredient list to make sure that sugar in its various names is not the predominant ingredient. Generally – avoid bars with long ingredient lists. A good bar or granola cereal should not be sweetened with anything but dried fruit and possibly some honey.

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  • http://www.abetterbagofgroceries.com/ Melissa

    The NuVal scores for granola also vary widely. Funny that I chose granola for today’s blog topic as well. I list 4 different granola cereal products with scores ranging from 18 to 91 on the NuVal scale (100 is highest).

  • G

    Granola’s are also generally for people that require a quick fix of protein and sugar. Athletes endorse such stuff, but does it really mean that we should be eating it as often as they are? No. The high energy consumption that some lifestyles and occupations require might be good for the granola market, while others do not have the luxury of burning of calories and sugars that quickly. Keep in mind that cereal can be consumed at a much greater amount and achieve the same nutrition of granola when consumed at a fraction of the cereal.

    Food for thought.

  • http://www.betterschoolfood.org Dr. Susan Rubin

    Make your own! So darn simple. Makes a great gift.
    Recipe: http://www.drsusanrubin.com/rubin-rodeo-granola/

  • Heather

    I agree with Dr. Rubin! I make my own granola and while it still packs a calorie punch, it’s full of “good” things like seeds and wheat germ and has very little oil or sweetener in it (and the sweetener is mainly honey and/or syrup, not refined sugar). It takes less than a half-hour to make a batch — about as long as going to the supermarket.

  • http://www.acceleratenaturalenergy.com/blog AccelerateEnergy

    I’m glad someone has finally called out granola. It’s another one of those foods that has been classified as healthy for far too long. I’m not doubting that many of the ingredients can fall under the “healthy” unbrella, but combined with the hydrogenated oils, HFCS, and other synthesized ingredients, most store-bought granola is nothing more than clustered candy bars.

    I’m definitely on the same page as Dr. Rubin, who suggested making your own. Nothing better and more healthy than knowing exactly what goes into what you’re eating.

  • Food Network Junkie

    Organic. I’ll say no more.