Is granola good for you?
Granola is a healthy cereal or topping for yogurt – right?
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, granola is:
“a mixture typically of rolled oats and various added ingredients (as brown sugar, raisins, coconut, and nuts) that is eaten especially for breakfast or as a snack.”
When we describe granola as ‘healthy’ or ‘good for you’, the waters get murky. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), foods that are labeled as healthy must be low in fat and saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol; and also contain at least 10% of one or more of these nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein and fiber.
As a dietitian, I have two areas of concern: serving size and added sugars.
Serving size: One serving of granola is ½ cup, smaller than many of us expect and definitely smaller than servings of other types of cereal. That small serving sizes contains more calories than other cereals: one half-cup serving of granola typically contains 200-300 calories. A cup of granola is easily 500 calories.
Add sugars: The core ingredients in granola are nutrient-dense oats (hello fiber, antioxidants, lower cholesterol and blood sugar), dried fruit, nuts and seeds. But granola makers often add sugars and oils to improve the flavor. Some granolas have more sugar than a Coke. The recently released 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the first time recommend reducing added sugar intake to protect against obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
So, how do you chose a healthy granola?
1. Choose granola with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
2. Look for granola with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving, which reflects both the sugar naturally present in fruit as well as added sugar.
3. Make sure that sugar or other sweeteners is no higher than the third ingredient.
4. Mix ¼ cup granola with lower calorie cereal like flakes, puffs or squares.
5. Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of granola on plain Greek yogurt.
Written by Rise Coach Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC. Lynn is a foodie, runner, and optimist who lives in Arizona. She is trained as a registered dietitian/nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and running coach/personal trainer. Learn more about Lynn and how to work with her here.