Sunday, May 9, 2010

Health Food Imposters - Granola

Breakfast. The word just brings a smile to my face. It is my biggest meal of the day, my favorite meal of the day, and if anyone dares get in the way of me and my eggs within my first five minutes of getting out of bed, I will knock them over the head with my Paula Dean skillet so hard they will think that butter is an essential nutrient. But are you one of those people who throw down some granola first thing thinking its a balanced meal? Or sprinkle some on your yogurt and believe you are starting your day the healthy way? Well you had better put down those oversized coffee mugs and open your ears because granola is another Healthy Boy Health Food Imposter, because eating it could not only cause you to gain a few pounds, but it could be detrimental for your health also.

What if I told you that that bowl of granola you are consuming at breakfast has more calories than eggs and bacon? Would you believe me it I told you that granola bar you just munched on after your hike had more fat than a McDonalds hash brown? That's right, one bowl of granola can contain anywhere up to 500 calories. We have been led to believe that granola is a "health food" and back in the old days when they had horse drawn carts, tumble weed blowing across dusty streets, and the ipad was something you gave your six year old to correct a lazy eye, it was. Granola used to simply consist of rolled oats, dried fruit with some nuts and grains thrown in to create a well balanced meal that could be eaten warm or cold and provided you vitamins, mineral and natural energy. But these days, you are better off grabbing a bowl of lucky charms than a bowl of granola. Check out this article from Newsweek;

Scary right? Now don't get me wrong, I would never advocate choosing a bowl of lucky charms over granola, because lucky charms are still more artificial than granola, but from a caloric perspective it is pretty eye opening.

So maybe you have been blindly eating this favorite breakfast item and are putting on a little weight and wondering why. Well the granola itself isn't what's causing you to get another hole clipped out of your belt, no its all the insulin spiking sugar, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats and artificial additives that get thrown into it. Wait, trans fats? Yes. Remember my article last week on fats? Which ones are good and which ones you need to avoid? Remember how I told that trans fats, disguised on labels as "partially hydrogenated oil" are the worst kind of fat from a health and weight loss perspective? Uh huh, just turn over those granola packets and see it appear on the label. Now why would food manufactures put this horrible ingredient in this otherwise healthy food? Well for a few reasons. One: it extends the product's shelf life saving them money. Two: it creates a texture that is pleasing to the human palette, which makes us buy more. Three: its a cheap oil and saves them money. Hmmm, see a pattern here?

Remember Mean Girls? One of the last movies Lindsay Lohan did before she upgraded from stocking out movie theaters to restocking the liquor bottles at 5am at Chateau Marmont? One of my favorite parts was where Lindsay's character convinces Regina that those fattening bars she was eating were actually healthy weight loss bars and she consequently packs on the pounds. Well if you are eating granola bars, you are Regina, a mean spirited, bleached blonde nasty high school girl who is going to be getting fatter and fatter. Well not exactly but you get the point. You see granola bars are probably the worst granola inspired meal you can think of.

We all have busy lives, we work long hours, we travel far to get to work, and sometimes we are just looking for the most convenient, and hopefully nutritious meal we can get our hands on in a hurry. We simply don't have time to be whipping up some braised lamb shanks and scalloped potatoes 6 times a day (if you do, then I will give you my address, you can come over and I will forever be your lap pony). The large food manufactures realize this, so they take good ol' healthy granola and stick it together to make a bar with high fructose corn syrup, trans fatty soybean oils and other nasty cheap ingredients that make it yummy and tasty, but as about as beneficial to your waistline as Bobby was to Whitney's sobriety."Bobbayyyyyyyyyyyyy"

Think you are doing yourself any favors for choosing those 90 calorie granola bars? Think again. Lets take a look at Quaker Oats Chewy Granola bars. The second ingredient is sugar, and the fifth ingredient is partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils. And what does that translate to? Trans fats! "But it says on the package that it contains no trans fats?" Yes that's right, there is a little loop hole provided by the FDA that allows them to advertise this even though the product still contains it. Don't you just love the FDA? Although they may be low calorie, the consumption of the ingredients in these bars will still interfere with your fat burning hormones and produce other health related illness, not to mention clog up your arteries and raise your blood pressure.

Now not all the fat grams you see on the label are nasty trans fats, the majority of the fats in granola and granola bars come from nuts and seeds, the kinds of healthy fats we want in our bodies. But buyer beware, although they are healthy fats they are also incredibly calorie dense. Meaning that even though they are good for you, if you are on a weight loss diet, then you do need to still be mindful of your total caloric intake per meal and per day.

Not too concerned about your waist line? Well it turns out sugar and fat aren't the only nasties you need to be looking out for. Other ingredients they throw in there that may not widen your hips but may reduce your life expectancy are artificial colorings and flavors. Fiber One bars for example contain Yellow 6, an artificial color which is a suspected carcinogen and has been reported to cause kidney and adrenal gland tumors. Yum! They also contain a chemical called BHA, which has been banned in Europe because it's a suspected carcinogen, but the FDA still allows for it's inclusion in food (and cosmetics) here in the US.

So what's an active, busy, healthy conscious healthy boy or girl to do? Make your own! Yes you can make your own granola bars by toasting up some oats, adding your favorite nuts and dried fruits and sticking them together with some almond butter. But if you are like me and don't really have time to be toasting up some oats, just grab a few zip lock bags and throw in some nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Its a great on the go healthy snack that you can take anywhere, and one where you can control the portion size and ingredients.

So although, like the majority of my Health Food Imposter posts, I am providing you with all the negative information on granola products and warning you about the fat inducing health consequences of consuming them, I am by no means saying you can never enjoy a bowl of your favorite breakfast item again. I am however alerting you to the fact that it isn't as healthy as once thought. If you do enjoy the occasional granola indulgence, just make sure you are purchasing the brands that are natural - the ones that contain no high fructose corn syrup, no trans fats (remember to read the ingredient list for this one) and no artificial colors or additives, and of course preferably one that is calorie conscious also. Or you wont just be a mean girl, you will be a fat girl also.

Healthy Boy x


  1. I looooveee your blog! It's well written, very informative and useful to everyone in maintaining a healthy life.


  3. One cup of puffed up lucky charms has more nutrients than one cup dense granola? Wow! I bet one cup of whole wheat dough has more calories than one cup wonder bread. Nutritionists have a good racket; add up numbers which are available to everyone and say x>y, say eat y, then get paid.

    Granola sticks to your ribs, is full of fiber, healthy fats and nutrition, and, if properly made, is a wonderful source of whole grains. Just eat less of it because it's calorie rich. My God, when did health food come to mean "you can eat tonnes of it, because it has no nutrition." I agree, make your own. There is no such thing as a Tasty & Fat-Free & Sugar-free granola. You need fat and sugar for flavor and texture or you just have dry baked rolled oats. No thank. Make some delusions granola and eat a small bowl with friends/family at a table without the tv on. Enjoy good food more often and less of it; Remember, in all things moderation.


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