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Is Granola As Healthy As It’s All Cracked Up To Be

The first cold breakfast cereal, Granula, was first invented in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson.   Somewhat like “Grape-nuts”, it was a dense cereal made from whole wheat flour and required soaking overnight.  It wasn’t until William A. Kellogg, the son of a Seventh Day Adventist factory worker in Battle Creek, Michigan, returned from medical school to become medical superintendent at the Western Health Reform Institute, that the first ready-to-eat, packaged cold cereal was developed.  At that time, the Adventist establishment was in search of more natural remedies to cure illnesses and believed a vegetarian diet, including grains for breakfast, rather than the customary ham, eggs, sausages and fried potatoes, was a better choice.  In 1895, Dr. Kellogg patented and launched Corn Flakes, made from toasted flakes of corn.  And so began the first prepackaged, ready-to-eat meal and the concept of no hassle, instant fulfillment.  But is today’s cold cereal and granola in particular, really the best thing for breakfast?

Granola Versus Other Grains

GranolaGranola, as it later became known once Dr. Kellogg developed a tastier version, is still considered by most to be a healthy cereal or snack.  Yes, the first ingredient is whole grain oats, but look more closely and notice each half cup serving contains 12 gms of sugar.  And don’t be fooled by that little honey wand on the front of the package.  The larger amount of sweetener in there is coming from “refiners” syrup, another name the Corn Refiners Association came up with for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).   Although chemically similar to table sugar, there is controversy over HFCS’s link to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.  I guess the Corn Refiner’s Association decided to let HFCS go incognito so it could go under the radar.

And that added protein you are getting is not coming from wholesome soy.  Nope, it’s recreated soy that’s been processed with fillers, flavorings and preservatives called soy isolates.  Most people might think that if it’s granola, it’s healthy, so why not eat as much as you want, right?  A half cup serving has 210 calories and who is going to stop at a half cup?

Eat Oats Another Way

Oatmeal Comparison

Compare Oatmeal

Oatmeal is naturally high in fiber, protein and low in sugar.  It is also really high in avenanthramides, an antioxidant found only in oats that fights arteriosclerosis – or hardening of the arteries.

Old-fashioned, steel-cut or quick cook oats all start out as groats.  Old-fashioned oatmeal is made from steaming and rolling the whole oat groat.  Quick cooks are just old-fashioned oats that have been chopped up to cook more quickly. Steel-cut  are made from cutting up groats in thirds.   All of these forms of oatmeal have similar nutritional labels but there are some who believe that there are more nutritional benefits from going with the less processed steel-cut oats and even the groat.  The real difference is when sweeteners are added; this is where the real nutritional value declines.

maple vs plain oatmealIf you compare the original and maple 40 gm oatmeal packets to the left you’ll see that you get half the protein and fiber and 12 more grams of sugar in the maple packet compared to the original unsweetened oatmeal.  Knowing that some consumers only look at calories, the manufacturer cleverly kept the calories the same but stripped out a large portion of what keeps people full and replaced it with sugar.  Yeah, you’re getting the same 150 calories, but you are getting half the amount of fiber and protein and more of the sweet taste.  Yup, no wonder you will get hungry an hour later.

Steel Cut OatsNow if you look at the steel-cut oats labels below, you’ll see that the Hodgson Mill brand on the left has almost the same carbs, fiber and protein as the old-fashioned packets but Bob’s Red Mill still beats on Hodgson Mill when it comes to protein and fiber, albeit, not something to really holler about.  I just happen to really like Bob’s Red Mill products.

The Best Way To Get Your Oats

With the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommending we get less than 10% of our calories from added sugars, starting off your day working towards that limit doesn’t make sense.  With the average middle-aged moderately active woman consuming the recommended 2000 calories per day, consuming 12 grams at breakfast leaves only 38 grams for the rest of the day.  And to give you an idea of how sugar adds up – one Oreo has 9 gms.  A teaspoon of sugar in your coffee has 4 gms.  Four squares of Lindt’s dark chocolate has 18 gms.  A 20 oz coke has 65 gms.  Instead, why not add your own sweetener to your oatmeal by adding fruit – which does not count towards your daily limit?  And then top it with some plain Greek yogurt to boost the protein.  Now that’s going to keep you full until lunch and you won’t be dealing with hunger and yawning at 10 in the morning.  Meanwhile, those arteries will be pumping for joy, and you’ll be keeping up with your grandchildren without any complaints.  Now that’s a really nice payback and a healthy way to live.