Granola has come to be associated with wooded areas, Whole Foods and crystals charged under a Taurus moon — things we (sometimes gratuitously) think of as natural and healthy. It earned its reputation a long time ago: In 1863, nutrition enthusiast (and neckbeard honcho) James Caleb Jackson soaked unsweetened bran nuggets in milk and called it granula. But the more contemporary manifestation of his once-hearty invention has taken a turn for the worse, and nowadays, granola is more like a dessert than a wholesome breakfast.
A cup of Nature Valley Big & Crunchy Granola has 28 grams of sugar, which is more than a Snickers. A cup of Quaker Oats & Honey Simply Granola has 21 grams. A cup of Bear Naked Fruit & Nut Granola has 26 grams. (Note, too, that the average serving size for granola is a quarter of a cup, which is about a large mouthful.)
Commercial granolas in particular can also be high in unhealthy fats thanks to the addition of refined vegetable oils (which serve to make it clumpier). These unhealthy fats, combined with too much sugar, can often negate the otherwise healthy protein and fiber that the whole grains, nuts and seeds in granola would otherwise provide. “Whilst in theory granola is a great source of fiber and healthy fats, the reality is that many granolas are packed with added sugars and additional oils,” says nutritionist Jenna Hope. “In many cases, the benefits of granola being a source of fiber, micronutrients, healthy fats and protein are often outweighed by their high refined (or unrefined) sugar content and the addition of refined oils.”
“Having said this,” Hope continues, “there are granola brands that focus on limiting their sugar content by utilizing ingredients such as inulin, which is a natural prebiotic fiber. Inulin does contain sugar, albeit lower levels than most traditional sugars.” (Beware, though: Inulin can cause bloating and abdominal pain if consumed too quickly or in large quantities.) Consumer Reports analyzed 38 granolas and found that Back Roads, Bob’s Red Mill and Purely Elizabeth have some decent options.
But if you want to avoid the sugary lies of granola altogether, Hope says a cold oatmeal dish called muesli can be a better choice. “Muesli contains the benefits of the protein, healthy fats, fiber and complex carbohydrates without the added sugars,” she explains. “Therefore, muesli is often lower in sugar, fats and total calories than granolas.”
Homemade granola is also a great alternative and will likely cost you way less than whatever they offer at Whole Foods. As an added bonus, you can charge your crystals while you make it.