Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in Show More
Thank goodness for John Harvey Kellogg. In addition to inventing cornflakes, Kellogg coined one of my favorite words in the English language: granola. To avoid a lawsuit from the inventor of a similar whole-wheat cereal product with the trademarked name Granula, Kellogg called his own whole-wheat cereal Granola. The rest is breakfast food history.
Kellogg was a famously fanatical believer in health foods and exercise. He stopped speaking to his brother over the issue of adding sugar to their cornflakes recipe. It is no surprise that his granola consisted of unsweetened graham flour mixed with water and baked into large, crunchy pebbles.
When health-food enthusiasts in the 1960s revived the name, they revised the recipe to include rolled oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. As granola went mainstream, it also acquired a whole lot of fat and sugar. To make it more palatable to consumers of Cap'n Crunch and Sugar Pops, cereal companies added sweeteners. To get it to bake into browned and crunchy clusters, they added fat. Today, a typical 1/2 cup serving of store-bought granola has 280 calories and 3 grams of saturated fat. A McDonald's hamburger, in comparison, has 250 calories and 3.5 grams of saturated fat.
Unwilling to give up granola entirely, I took a long, hard look to see if I could make it healthier without sacrificing its flavor and crunch. Following a few new guidelines, I was able to cut sugar and fat without losing the taste and texture I love.
Use more oats
There's no question that rolled oats, the main ingredient in granola, are a superfood. Full of a type of soluble fiber that has proved effective in lowering blood cholesterol, oats contain heart-healthy antioxidants, and also have been shown to stabilize blood- sugar levels and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. They're also low in fat. Some recipes call for equal amounts of oats and nuts. For a lighter granola, I use 4 cups of oats for every 3/4 cup of nuts.
Fewer nuts, more nut flavor
Nuts are famously fattening. But don't cut them out altogether. They contain healthful polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats as well as protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants galore. To get more nut flavor in every bite with less fat, use sliced almonds instead of chopped walnuts or pecans.
Add just enough oil Instead of stressing out about the healthy fats in nuts, I used less vegetable oil. A little vegetable oil is necessary to help the oats brown and crisp up. Some recipes call for 3/4 cup of oil or more for 4 cups of oats. But I found that 1/4 cup gave my oats good color and crunch.
Pick healthy sweeteners
I chose molasses instead of honey. Not only does it have fewer calories per tablespoon than honey but, unlike other sweeteners, it actually contains nutrients, including potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron, in significant amounts. And because it has so much flavor, a little goes a long way. As for dried fruit, I measured carefully: 3/4 cup of raisins or dried cranberries adds sweetness to granola without too many extra calories.
Even when trimmed of excess fat and sugar, granola is not a low-calorie food. To enjoy it while on a diet, you'll have to practice self-restraint. Sprinkle 1/4 cup over plain, nonfat yogurt. Add some sliced strawberries (which have less sugar by volume than dried fruit). Think of granola as a nutritionally rich garnish instead of a main course.
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup flaxseeds
1/3 cup unsalted pumpkin or sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup dark (not blackstrap) molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup raisins or sweetened dried cranberries
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the oats, almonds, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds, ginger, cinnamon, molasses, vanilla and oil in a large bowl. Spread in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the oats are crisp and lightly colored, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheet.
2. Stir together the oat mixture and raisins. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Makes about 6 cups granola.