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Granola is the classic healthy food, right? Not exactly. Many packaged granola mixes are drowning in sugar, fat and calories, but there are ways to make it work, especially when you create your own.
Buying Granola at the Market
So what’s not healthy about it? It’s the calories we’re worried about — a single cup can have 600 or more. Many of those calories come from healthy nuts, seeds, whole grains and dried fruit, but packaged granola mixes also have tons of sugar.
First step: read the label! Avoid a granola that lists sugar in the top three ingredients. For homemade or store-bought options, portion control is key. Stick to 1/4-cup servings when you’re eating a full meal (say, breakfast) and two tablespoons if you’re just snacking. If you eat granola as your morning cereal, mix that 1/4 cup with another, low-calorie cereal.
Small portions mean you can stretch that box further. Of the packaged kinds, we like Nature’s Path and Cascadian Farms. Health food stores and grocers like Whole Foods sell granola (and nuts, oatmeal and more) from bins, where you scoop how much you want. Look for an ingredient list on the container so you know what you’re getting and, again, stick to 1/4-cup portions.
Making Your Own
A box of packaged granola can set you back $5 or $6; it’s definitely cheaper to make your own. You can tweak the ingredients to include favorite nuts or fruit and work around allergies. When mixing some up, keep these tips in mind:
- Choose old fashioned oats for a crispy texture. Quick oats create a less-tasty, powdery bite.
- If you like clumpier granola, make sure to squeeze the cereal (or other ingredients) into small clusters before baking. A touch of water can help keeps the pieces together.
- Bake at a low temperature for a crispy, brown finish; go too high and you might burn it.
- Granola keeps in an airtight container for up to a month; stash it in a cool, dry place.
My granola typically has dried fruits (apricots, raisins, figs, cranberries) for sweetness and texture, nuts and seeds for crunch, and vanilla extract or apple cider to up the flavor. When picking your nuts, go for raw or dry roasted; some manufacturers roast their nuts in oil, which can add unnecessary fat.
Ordering Your Own
If you want custom flavor but don’t have the time, I found a couple new sites that can help. The well-named Mixmygranola.com lets you pick your ingredient faves or opt for one of their mixes. They ship it to you in a cool cylinder, which includes a nutrition facts panel that matches your ingredients. For my family, I chose the Apricot Granola Delight mix, one of their standards. The granola can be a bit pricey ($7 and up, plus shipping), but you get a lot in that 16-ounce container. Meandgoji.com is another custom cereal site. We haven’t tried it out yet, but looks like they have tons of mix-and-match options.
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