For athletes, granola is a fantastic energy-dense snack which can pack a lot of calories to help meet energy needs on high-calorie expenditure days. Depending on the wet ingredients (honey, syrup, oil), granola can also be a substantial pre-workout snack as you will receive a nice mix of carbohydrates with a little fat but without a lot of fiber.
However, most store-bought granola's or granola recipes are overloaded with added sugars which makes it hard to call this cereal alternative a "healthy" option.
Although society/media does a great job of making you feel extremely guilty when you eat anything with sugar in it, you are allowed to eat sugar in the daily diet without health implications. And this is specifically talking about the daily diet and not sport nutrition consumed during workouts (this is another topic).
In other words, your diet does not have to be 100% sugar-free as that would eliminate sugars found in fruits, grains, dairy and vegetables so it's important to evaluate your dietary choices and limit/reduce the added sugar.
To start, check out the ingredient lists of the packaged goods/products in your pantry and refrigerator that you typically consume in your diet on a daily basis to better understand how much added sugar you consume each day.
The best part about moving toward a more real food diet is that you will automatically reduce your added sugar intake.
A great real food swap is to make your own granola. But no need to stress about adding sugar from a natural source (raisins, dates, honey, syrup) to your granola recipe, especially if you are making granola in place of buying cereal, eating a heavily processed food snack or eating a sugary-treat alternative.
When I need a little crunch and a hint of sweetness to top my yogurt for a snack or to munch-on before/after a workout or for a treat, I love my homemade granola mixture.
The great thing about granola is that you can be in charge of the ingredients.
Unless you let the granola bake too long, you really can't mess-up your recipe.
I personally prefer to keep the added sugars on the minimal side when I make granola. I don't need a lot of sugar to make my taste buds happy with my granola recipe so I add just enough honey to coat the oats but not to much that my granola is extra crunchy and clumpy.
If you prefer the typical crunchy, bite-size chunks of granola, you will want more of a binder (more wet ingredients like syrup or oil).
2 heaping cups instant oats to 1/2 - 3/4 cup honey.
(if you are using oil, a typical ratio is 3 cups oats + 1/2 cup honey/syrup + 1/2 cup oil)
Here's my go-to granola base recipe:
2 cups instant oats
2 tbsp chia seeds (you can omit these if you don't have them)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
Veronica's Health Crunch mix (chopped) - or any nuts/seeds that you want
To prevent honey from sticking to a measuring cup, I lightly spray the cup with non stick spray before pouring in the honey to measure.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Lay out a non stick baking sheet by your mixing bowl.
3. After you mix together the ingredients with a wooden spatula (except crunch/nuts/seeds and raisins) in a bowl, spread out the mixture evenly on the baking dish (it's ok if a few clumps remain on the sheet).
4. To prevent the edges of the granola mix from burning, lightly turn the mixture with a spatula around 10 minutes.
5. When I begin to smell the granola (around 14-17 minutes), I remove the baking dish from the oven and add the last two ingredients - sprinkling a small handful of raisins and chopped nuts over the granola.
(you can add the nuts/seeds to the mix before you bake the granola but I don't like crunchy raisins so that is why I add them later so they stay soft).
6. When the granola is lightly brown, I turn off the oven and let the granola sit in the oven for a few more minutes.
When you first start making granola, you will want to start watching the granola around 10-12 minutes (keep the light on in your oven) so that you can determine the perfect time baking time for your recipe.
Here's a good tip article on making granola.
I promise that once you start making your own granola, you won't find yourself spending the time (or money) searching for the "best" or "healthiest" granola in the supermarket.
Here are some additional add-in's to your oat mixture:
Wet ingredients: Coconut oil, maple syrup, agave syrup, honey
Dried fruits - cranberries, cherries, figs, dates, apricots, blueberries, raisins, mango, pineapple
Toasted wheat germ
Cashews, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans
Spices: Ginger, pumpkin, nutmeg, cloves, allspice
Fresh fruit (chopped apples, pears, apricots)