On the surface, granola doesn't seem so bad. The primary ingredient, whole-grain oats, packs a big fiber punch and supports digestive health. Nuts and seeds provide a heart-healthy source of dietary fats, and dried fruits add natural sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth. Often, however, granola's healthy benefits are masked by cereals that are loaded with added sugar and artificial ingredients. Additionally, the dense ingredients contain more calories than may be expected. It is important to check the nutrition contents to find brands that best preserve the nutritional value of granola without loads of unhealthy ingredients. Consider its high caloric content, too, when determining serving size.
Sugar and Artificial Ingredients
When shopping for granola cereal, inspect the sugar and fat content as well as the overall ingredients list. Many brands, even those that are reputably healthy, contain lots of added sugar that does not contribute any nutritional value. Fooducate.com's "The Granola Health Myth" article advises avoiding products that list many sources of sugar in the ingredients list, sticking to those with sugar content derived from dried fruit and/or honey. Products that are low in calories or claim to be "low-fat" or "sugar-free" often eliminate the healthiest ingredients to make this claim. Before purchasing these items, consider what health benefits may be sacrificed. Many products, even those touting "all-natural" ingredients, can contain unhealthy trans fats, artificial coloring and preservatives, so check the label carefully before buying.
In addition to checking the labels for nutrition information, also compare calorie content and serving size. Granola is loaded with many nutrient-dense ingredients, which provide the consumer with plenty of health benefits and energy but also increase the calorie content. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's 2013 report, "Maintaining a Healthy Weight On the Go," just 1 cup of homemade granola contains approximately 500 calories and contains 55 grams of fat, much higher than the average breakfast cereal. The NHLBI report recommends replacing granola with lower-fat and lower-calorie options such as oatmeal or bran flakes if weight control is a concern. Because granola is so packed with nutrients, the recommended serving is smaller than comparable breakfast foods, so be mindful of this when consuming granola cereal.
Keeping It All-Natural
To preserve the health benefits of granola cereal, try making it at home rather than purchasing it at the store. Any combination of raw ingredients including oats, nuts and dried fruits can be found at a health food store or farmers market. You can customize the ingredients to suit your tastes and avoid consuming all that extra, artificial stuff that is found in many store brands. Seek out healthy, creative recipes, tips and tricks for making homemade granola on food magazine websites.
Granola can have a place in a healthy diet because it contains a high percentage of the daily recommended intake of fiber, protein and other nutrients. But it is important to be mindful of artificial ingredients and to consider the high calorie content before consuming it regularly. Granola cereal is best enjoyed in moderation, in its most natural form and as part of a healthy, balanced diet.