Hands up, who likes granola? Excellent, that’s most of you. But did you know that some of the granola we eat should really be re-classified as dessert? Despite its rather saintly image, most granolas are quite high in both sugar and fat. And we tend to eat rather more than the suggested serving size. Unless I weigh it out, I know I can certainly tip in quite the little mound. And no, not even the fact that it may float innocently in unsweetened soya milk and be topped with decidedly healthy fresh berries makes it a super-healthy breakfast choice. If granola were a person I believe it would be batting its lashes coquettishly before leading us very astray.
So, does this mean you should relegate your favourite granola to the status of treat? Or, perhaps, just try an easy, no-brainer recipe instead? To help you make up your mind I have had a wee look at some popular UK brands, as well as a read of an interesting article that appeared in the Daily Mail newspaper. Despite knowing that commercial granolas are certainly not for dieters, I was quite taken aback by how ‘dessert-like’ are many of the brands – good, trusted brands. That’s not to say we should not have them. They aren’t evil or bad for us, just not what we think they are. A check on the labels of a half-dozen well-known UK granola brands by dietitian Anna Raymond showed that all had more than 12.5g of sugar per 100g. This is the threshold that denotes a high-sugar food. As UK health guidelines recommend consuming not more than 90g of sugar a day, that’s quite a lot of extra sugar that we might not account for. Cereals at the lower end for sugar (Honey Granola by Dorset Cereals) tended to be higher in fat (lots of nuts), and vice versa. Pretty much all were over 400 calories per 100g – without milk. That’s almost fine if we keep to proper serving sizes, but the problem is that a serving is usually just a couple of tablespoons – about 1/4 cup. I know, bummer.
Serving size advice varies according to what you read and what’s in the granola. You can look at the article here. She makes some rather odd comparisons with coffee chain muffins, cola and fast food, perhaps forgetting that all of the granolas, despite their ‘faults’, have good amounts of soluble and insoluble fibre, minerals and vitamins. Even still, I really think we are better off mainly making our own. You all in the US might want to read this article (from 2008, so brands may be out of date) as it lists popular brands and how they stack up nutritionally.
As might be expected, there are quite a lot of good recipes for granola on the internet. I have tried a few and sometimes make my own riff on a Nigella one that she borrowed from someone else. I do however eschew the not-uncharacteristic-for-Nigella addition of extra honey dribbled over. A bit of gilding the lily, but very Nigella.
Many of my recipes – including this granola one – have been honed over the years to what we like as a family and as new ingredients – and information – become available. Tastes change too: Miss R now likes for me to throw in the occasional esoteric ingredient – cacao nibs was a recent add-in for the granola (I wasn’t keen on it). I would say this is a fairly conventional take on granola, but the addition of amaranth or quinoa ‘souffle’ (puffs) adds more satisfying protein. More protein = more satisfaction. And the malt syrup, although a sugar, does have quite useful nutrients that we could all use more of. And it tastes amazing and, well, malty.
Nutrition Notes: Oats are rather ubiquitous grains, appearing in breads, cookies, savoury biscuits, as flour and, of course, at many breakfast tables as muesli or granola. You can even pop a couple of tablespoons of porridge oats in a smoothie to power it up. But their ubiquity shouldn’t detract from their rather elite nutritional usefulness. Known scientifically as Avena sativa, oats are especially hardy crops, growing in soil where little else thrives.
Despite growing in poor soil oats are endowed with a nutrient and research profile that puts even many vegetables to shame. Briefly, research has shown that oats (and some of this covers some other grains too): stabilise blood sugar, lower cholesterol, substantially lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, are protective for a number of cancers including colon and breast, guard against childhood asthma and reduce risk of heart disease. Pretty impressive for something you can buy just about anywhere, and for little money.
That reminds me, we (I include myself here) can sometimes be so enthralled by the latest hype about obscure ingredients that we forget about the good stuff already in our supermarket trolley or CSA box. I bet you already eat things such as apples, prunes, walnuts, citrus, garlic, dark green vegetables and olive oil. These are every bit as healthy and worthy as acai berries, wheatgrass and chia seeds. And vastly less expensive too. Eating healthily doesn’t have to be second mortgage territory. As I am typing this I have just looked at a recent article that supports what I have just written. Have a look here for a longer read on this, and definitely more skilled writing.
And, before I forget, here are some of the nutrient goodies found in the oh-so humble oat: manganese (68.5% of RDA in 1 cup), selenium (27%), tryptophan (a biochemical precursor for serotonin and melatonin), phosphorus, B vitamins (especially thiamin), fibre, magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin E and protein. Impressed? I put ground up oats in a lot of baked goods, for example, Courgette, Lemon and Elderflower Cake. Any small ways to add nutritional goodness while still tasting fantastic is fine by me. Maybe for your next baking session take away a little flour (about 50g) and replace it with whizzed up oats.