Granola Isn’t Dessert

Granola is generally considered a "healthy" food...and it can be! I like to have granola with yogurt (Siggi's plain 4%) and blueberries for breakfast. I usually get my granola from the local co-op bulk section. The first thing I look for is the ingredients list to see how much sugar is used. (There are no nutrition labels showing sugar per serving, so this is the next best thing as ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance.)

Whilst traveling, I went shopping for some granola at local grocery stores. It wasn't pretty.

Sometimes the granola name tells you all you need to know. If it has "chocolate" in the name, it belongs in the candy section. Granola isn't dessert! (Note that this post refers to granola eaten loose rather than granola bars, which need something to hold them together and may be more dessert-like.)

Granola products are reluctant to say they have sugar since that might make them seem unhealthy so they often use various sugary ingredients instead:

  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Organic cane sugar (it's not clear why this is supposed to be healthier)
  • Brown sugar (see previous parenthetical comment)
  • Apple juice (sometimes as concentrate, which is even worse)
  • Chocolate chips (are you kidding me?)
  • Brown rice syrup

None of this automatically makes a granola unhealthy although in sufficient quantities it's definitely not good. Unfortunately it's also not always clear cut. Let's use "Bear Naked" granola as an example. I've actually eaten a couple varieties of this in the past so I'm not picking on them. They just happen to have lots of varieties and easily accessible nutrition information (props to them for that). Here are a few examples. Note that 6 grams of sugar is about a typical teaspoon.

Honey Almond
Uh oh, "honey" in the name. Let's check the ingredients:

Doesn't look too bad other than a sugar (honey, of course) at #2. But it comes in at 11 grams of sugar per half-cup serving.

Triple Berry
This sounds better, right? Let's see:

Hmmm...a sugar at #2 and #5. Sounds ominous. But this one comes in at 6 grams of sugar per serving. It also has "50% less sugar" printed on the front although it's not clear what it's comparing it to (i.e. 50% less than what?). Still, despite the ominous ingredients list this one has significantly less sugar than the previous...almost 50% less. Go figure.

OK, one more. This should be an easy one.

Sugar is in the list three times so it's no surprise this one comes in at 11 grams of sugar per serving. You get the idea.

One thing to keep in mind when comparing different brands is that not all use the same serving size. (This is, of course, true for many other foods as well.) For example, one I looked at used 1/3 cup instead of 1/2 cup so naturally its sugar content will appear lower. (Math tip: just add half the value; e.g. 6 grams for 1/3 cup becomes 9 grams for 1/2 cup.)

Most DIY granola recipes include plenty of sugar, too. Turns out granolas are made with "wet" ingredients mixed with the familiar dry ones and toasted in an oven. Who knew? The wet ingredients can be honey or maple syrup, for example, or some kind of oil in which case the dry ingredients will include a sugar. (Even recipes with honey or maple syrup may also include additional dry sugar.)

Since I just mix my granola with plain yogurt (which, to be fair, contains sugar in the form of lactose as all dairy products do) it occurs to me I don't need a prepared granola with any added sugar. So here I go making my own.

My ingredients:

  • 1 cup oven toasted rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes (no sugar added)
  • 1/4 cup raisins (some sweetness)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds (fibre alert!)

Keep in mind that I have no culinary skills. I'm just winging it here and we already had everything but the coconut in the house. This is how it looks when mixed:

I didn't make much since it's an experiment. It's definitely not appealing on its own. How about in yogurt (with blueberries)?

Works for me! For comparison, this comes in around 6 grams per 1/2 cup serving (although I eat less than that) almost all from the raisins. The nutrition breakdown is roughly as follows:

  • 247 calories
  • 30g carbs
  • 13g fat
  • 7g protein
  • 8g fibre
  • 6g sugar

Quite reasonable for an active, growing boy like myself, even with the full-fat yogurt. Your mileage may vary.

This started out to be a rant about sugary granolas at a distant store. Guess I got distracted. OK, gotta go...squirrel!

Be seeing you,.


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