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Granola: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Posted Sep 01 2013 11:15pm

We all have our meal staples and for me granola is a breakfast staple.  When I don’t feel like taking much time to make breakfast simply granola, fruit, and some fresh almond milk make me a happy camper. Granola can be full of great stuff. Usually you find nuts or seeds which offer heart healthy fats and rolled oats which offer cholesterol capturing soluble fiber. However, store bought granola can be high in added sugars, as well a rancid oils, easily making this delicious and crunchy breakfast staple a pro-inflammatory food.

Reducing the amount of added sweeteners can have a lot of benefits. Too much added sugar has been linked to overweight and obesity, a lower intake of essential nutrients, increased triglyceride levels, hypertension, and inflammation. Since sugar does not offer any essential nutrients besides glucose and fructose, replacing sugar calories with nutrient dense calories can exacerbate nutrient deficiencies. However, by reducing added sweeteners and substituting white sugar for fruits or maple syrup, you can  satisfy your sweet tooth with healthier choices. Maple syrup for instance is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of zinc, both of which are essential minerals important for our antioxidant defense system and overall immune support.

As perviously mentioned, the oils found in store bought granola can often be rancid, especially those found in the BULK section. Depending on the quality of the oil that was used as well as the baking temperature of the nuts and seeds, the oils can quickly break down with exposure to heat, air and light. Since BULK granola may often sit in the bins for unknown amounts of time, they are prone to increased exposure to the elements. This is not good news because rancid oil acts as a free radical and stimulates a pro-inflammatory response in the body. Yikes!

Finally, because store bought granola has a lot of added sugar and a lot of added oils, it is calorically dense. Only a 1/4 cup can have almost 200 calories. Who really eats only 1/4 cup of granola? Since most recipes call for almost a cup of added sugar and half a cup of added oils, they can easily add unnecessary calories for an inactive individual. So in order to enjoy a filling breakfast portion of granola a little creativity can go a long way!

So now you know why I make my own granola. Not only is the quality much, much better, but it is also cheaper! Heck you can make it just how you like it because it is so versatile. Don't like tahini? Swap it for almond butter. Don't like applesauce? Swap it for a banana. Don't like orange? Swap it for lemon. Its that easy! Just make sure to store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and make smaller batches rather than larger ones. That way you can change it up and keep it fresh. You will be surprised by how easy it is to do yourself!

Ways that I enjoy my granola:
  • With fresh berries and a cup of homemade almond milk
  • Handful topped on plain whole milk Greek yogurt
  • Mixed into a salad for some extra crunch
  •  Sprinkled on a serving of ice cream or sorbet 

  • Orange Sesame Granola
    Makes ten ½ cup servings

    Wet Ingredients:
    2 tablespoons ground psyllium husk
    Juice and zest of 1 valencia orange
    ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
    ¼ cup organic maple syrup
    2 tablespoons tahini
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Dry Ingredients:
    3 cups gluten-free rolled oats
    4 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds
    1 tablespoon sesame seeds
    ¼ cup whole raw almonds, coarsely chopped
    ¼ cup dried Zante currants
    ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt

    1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
    2. Mix together all the wet ingredients into a medium bowl and allow to sit 5 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
    4. Once the wet mixture has sat about 5 minutes and psyllium husk has soaked up the liquid, mix together the wet with the dry ingredients.
    5. Lightly oil a large baking sheet with a paper towel and 1 teaspoon olive oil or coconut oil and evenly spread out the granola mixture onto baking sheet.
    6. Bake for 15 minutes. Then take baking sheet out of oven to stir the granola. Return to oven for another 15 minutes. Continue to do this for a total of an hour or until granola is golden brown. Make sure to not over-bake! It is better to check on it more often than not because oven temperatures vary a lot.
    7. Allow the granola to cool on counter and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

    Note: The granola will harden once cooled.
    Sweet Defeat. Getz, L. Today's Dietitian. February 2010;12(2):30.
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