Is it a brainy breakfast, or a delicious dessert? That’s the great debate about granola, and the simple answer is both. Packed with a plethora of ingredients, granola can play many different nutritional roles. That means you need to pay attention to what’s in your granola, to make sure you’re not having dessert for breakfast.
When granola comes packed with nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans, protein’s presence boosts granola’s nutritional prowess. Nuts, as well as seeds like sunflower and pumpkin, also offer a huge dose of healthy fats. The main ingredients in granola, rolled oats, are little fibrous pockets. Fibre aids digestion by slowing transit time, enhancing absorption of vitamins and minerals while steadily releasing carbohydrates for use and storage. Whole grains like oats are high in potassium, which helps regulate fluid balance and blood pressure while replacing what you lose in sweat. Many granolas also contain good levels of iron, so a serving in the morning can help deliver oxygen to minds and muscles.
But the flipside of granola is a dark one. Because granola has a healthy reputation due to the fruit, nuts and whole grains usually found in it, consumers often forget those oats are rolled in a whole lot of honey, sugar or syrup – which also give granola its characteristic flavour. Some oat clusters are even deep fried to further amp their textural pleasure. It’s also easy to eat a lot of granola. The serving size depicted on the nutrition facts label is usually in the measly 1/3-cup range – when most of us could easily eat at least twice that. Considering the small serving size boasts nearly 300 calories, doubling that cuts deeply into your daily caloric requirement.
Now, there is a time when quickly absorbed carbs from sugar can be helpful – the 30-minute window after a workout to recharge glycogen. It could also be argued that granola is a reasonable pre-run snack, with the fast-acting sugary carbs and slowly absorbed whole grains providing two types of fuel for a long haul.
Moderation is key: if you can stick to the suggested serving size, you can harness granola’s powers without blowing your caloric budget. But the most important decision comes long before you fill your bowl, when you pick which granola to buy. Read the label, and look for mixes that contain lots of nuts, seeds and fruit while minimizing the sugar content. Replace the missing sweetness by cutting fresh fruit into your bowl. Or best of all, make your own: it’s easy to mix and bake, and you can control how much sugar and far you want to add.
Bobbi Barbarich, RD, MSc, is a contributing editor at Canadian Running. You can reach her at email@example.com
Biju Thomas, co-author of The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavourful Food for Athletes, uses fruit juice and syrup or agave nectar in this granola recipe. “The idea here is to show how simple and easy it is,” Thomas says. “There are no mystery ingredients and no oil added in our granola, which makes it a bit more crunchy. Pre-mix the ingredients in a baggie and take it to your race hotel. Then just add some hot milk and voila, instant oatmeal before your next big event.”
4 cups “old-fashioned” rolled oats
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup maple syrup or agave nectar
¼ cup unfiltered apple juice
1 ripe banana
Optional additions (use up to ½ cup of each):
Dried goji berries
1. Heat oven to 300 F
2. In a large bowl, combine oats, brown sugar and coconut.
3. In a blender, combine maple syrup, apple juice and banana. Process until smooth.
4. Add the contents of the blender to the bowl and stir. You may have to add another splash of apple juice if the granola seems too dry.
5. Spread mixture evenly onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Bake 45 min.
6. Add any combination of the optional ingredients, if desired. Stir granola, and bake for an additional 10 to 15 min or until granola is desired shade of brown. Allow granola to cool completely.
It makes about 6 cups. Store in the fridge, in an airtight container.
Recipe taken from The Feed Zone Cookbook by Biju Thomas and Allen Lim, published by VeloPress in 2011.
Nutritional Information (per serving)
Fat 12 g
Sodium 6 mg
Carbohydrates 83 g
Fibre 10 g
Protein 13 g