Savory or sweet, granola is the ultimate crunchy hippie food. So it may surprise you to learn that most types of the stuff (especially in bar form) turn out to mostly be oat-based vehicles for added sugar. Those are some decidedly not good vibes, man. The good news, though, is that granola can still be a healthy treat, depending on the ingredients used to make it.
"Granolas are great for people who need quick energy and a portable source of nutrition and calories," says Kim Larson, RDN, spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. They can be particularly useful for energy right before a workout and, if paired with enough filling protein, you can munch on 'em after your barre class too.
So what's the damage? It turns out many of the ingredients used in most store-bought granolas (and granola bars) are really just code words for unnecessarily added sugar. Although there's nothing inherently wrong with sugar, eating too much of it — especially added sugar —can leave you dragging an hour after breakfast. Not exactly ideal.
To suss out the options that'll actually give you the energy you want, Larson says, check the label: "The first ingredients should be whole grains (e.g. oats), nuts, seeds, and dried fruits," she says. Another helpful rule of thumb: Look for at least 5 grams of protein per serving.
But if you see high fructose corn syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, or maple syrup listed within the first three ingredients, Larson tells us that granola is probably best left on the shelf (or saved for dessert). Sweetening your granola with a helping of fruit is a better breakfast or snack option because it'll come with extra vitamins and fiber.
That said, we know meal prep can be a lot to ask. So we've got you covered: Ahead you'll find a few of our favorite healthier granola options. Crunch on.