Granola is usually considered a healthy breakfast cereal.
It’s a toasted mixture of rolled oats, nuts, and a sweetener like sugar or honey, though it can also include other grains, puffed rice, dried fruit, seeds, spices, and nut butter.
Yet, some ingredients — such as chocolate, oils, and syrups — may be high in added sugars and fats.
This article explains whether granola is healthy and examines its benefits and downsides.
Nutritional breakdown of granola
Granola is calorie-dense and rich in protein, fiber, and micronutrients. In particular, it may provide iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium, B vitamins, and vitamin E.
However, its nutritional profile varies widely depending on the specific ingredients used.
The list below shows the average nutrients of granola:
- Calories: 220
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 7 grams
- Carbs: 30 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Sugar: 13 grams
Granola with more dried fruits or added sweetener is generally higher in sugar, nut- and seed-based varieties are higher in protein, and those with more whole grains are higher in fiber.
Summary: The nutrients in granola vary depending on the ingredients, though some are good sources of micronutrients and fiber. Certain brands may have more calories, protein, fiber, fat, or sugar than others.
Benefits of granola
Although there’s little scientific research on granola, common ingredients, including oats, flax seeds, chia seeds, and almonds, are linked to numerous health benefits.
Granola is filling and high in fiber
Most granola is rich in protein and fiber, contributing to fullness.
Protein even influences levels of important fullness hormones like ghrelin and GLP-1.
High-protein ingredients in granola may include nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, and seeds, like hemp, pumpkin, and sesame.
Additionally, high-fiber foods like oats, nuts, and seeds slow down the emptying of your stomach and increase digestion time, which can help you feel fuller for longer — and may aid appetite control.
Other potential health benefits of granola
- Granola may improve blood pressure. High-fiber ingredients like oats and flax seeds have been shown to help reduce blood pressure.
- Granola may reduce cholesterol levels. Oats are a good source of beta-glucan, a type of fiber that reduces total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, two risk factors for heart disease.
- Granola may reduce blood sugar. Whole grains, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds may help reduce and control blood sugar levels, particularly in people with obesity or prediabetes.
- Granola may improve gut health. Granola has been found to increase levels of healthy gut bacteria compared with refined breakfast cereals.
- Granola may provide many antioxidants. Ingredients such as coconut, chia seeds, and Brazil nuts are good sources of inflammation-fighting antioxidants like gallic acid, quercetin, selenium, and vitamin E.
Easy to take on the go
Granola has long been a top choice for hikers and backpackers, as it’s easy to store and keeps for a long time.
Like trail mix, it provides extra energy and protein during endurance activities.
Granola is also made into snack bars, which are easier to portion out and pack. However, these are highly processed and loaded with added sugars, oils, and additives.
Summary: Many types of granola contain healthy ingredients that may offer numerous benefits, including reduced inflammation and improved blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and gut health.
Downsides of granola
Although granola contains several healthy ingredients, it can be high in calories and packed with added fats and sugars.
Fats like vegetable oil, coconut oil, and nut butter are often included to help bind the ingredients, add flavor, and aid in the toasting process.
However, these can supply excess calories. Eating more than the specified portion may lead to unwanted weight gain, increasing your risk of obesity and metabolic disease.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends limiting sugar intake to 10% of your total daily calories, which equates to about 12 teaspoons (50 grams) of sugar for someone following a 2,000-calorie diet.
Some granolas have nearly four teaspoons (17 grams) of sugar in a single serving. Because eating more than the standard serving size is common, you could be getting a substantial amount of sugar in just one bowl.
Suggested read: The 12 best foods to eat in the morning
Eating too much sugar may increase your risk of many conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cavities, and even some types of cancer.
As such, watch out for ingredients like chocolate chips, honey, and dried fruit with added sugar.
Summary: Granola may prompt weight gain if eaten in excess, as it can be high in calories from added fats and sugars. Moreover, sugar is linked to chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
How to choose a healthy granola
Because ingredients vary widely by brand, it’s important to read nutrition labels carefully when shopping for granola.
Check the ingredient list, avoiding products that list sugar or sweeteners —including natural sweeteners like honey — within the first few ingredients.
Instead, the first few ingredients should be whole foods, such as oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
You may also want to look for varieties high in protein and fiber. Aim for at least 3–5 grams of fiber per serving.
Moreover, you should carefully consider serving sizes ranging from 2 tablespoons (12.5 grams) to 2/3 cup (67 grams). Particularly small serving sizes can be misleading, as you’ll likely consume more than that amount.
Finally, you can make granola yourself to minimize or eliminate added sugar and fat. However, remember that nuts and seeds are still calorie-dense, so watch your portions, even for homemade varieties.
Summary: It’s best to refrain from granolas high in added sugar, instead selecting ones with more fiber and protein. Try making this scrumptious breakfast food at home to control ingredients more carefully.
Granola is a nutritious, filling cereal.
However, wide varieties are high in calories and packed with excess sugar, which can harm your health.
Suggested read: 15 health foods that taste better than junk foods
Be sure to carefully read labels, choosing products with whole ingredients — like raisins, seeds, and nuts — that are high in protein and fiber.