For decades, granola has worn a halo of health in the nutrition world. But if you aren’t careful, both store-bought brands and homemade recipes can be loaded with sugar, unhealthy fats, and other ingredients that outweigh any benefits. Baking your own rather than purchasing provides you with more control over what goes in your batch, but there are still aspects of the recipe to look out for. I also go over what ingredients to be conscious of when baking (which can also be applied if you do decide to buy). Either way, you want low glycemic sweeteners, less inflammatory ingredients, heart-healthy oils, and zero to little fructose from dried fruit. Here are five ways to upgrade any homemade granola recipe.
1. Substitute with Low glycemic sweeteners
If a recipe calls for granulated sugar or a liquid sweetener, use a low glycemic substitute instead. Granulated sugars such as white sugar, turbinado sugar, cane sugar, and brown sugar, can be swapped 1:1 for coconut sugar. The former are all refined, whereas coconut sugar is not. Furthermore, coconut sugar, and its liquid counterpart coconut nectar, have a glycemic index of 35, versus other sweeteners that fall anywhere between 54 and 100. The glycemic index is a measurement of how much a food affects your blood sugar, so if that is something you want to be conscious of, it is good to know. Both honey and maple syrup are fine (and delicious) in homemade granola recipes, but any concoction can be upgraded further by using coconut nectar instead.
Stevia and monk fruit are two sweeteners that are making a name for themselves in the wellness world. This si due to the fact that both have a glycemic index of 0. However, both have a strong taste, so I would not recommend them as the only sweetener in a granola recipe, but rather to complement either of the coconut sweeteners.
Know that as you work to balance your blood sugar and rely less on the sweet stuff, your taste buds do adapt. An overly sweet granola you used to gorge on will likely become too sweet. A little goes a long way!
2. Use spices for flavor
A good segue from sweeteners is to crowd out the sugar with using spices as well. Cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, cardamom, nutmeg are all options in a homemade granola to give your taste buds a treat. Play around with different combinations, and your sure to be satisfied!
3. Go for gluten-free or grain-free
So many people consider “going gluten-free” a fad, and that if you don’t have Celiac Disease, it isn’t something you should worry about. Gluten is an inflammatory protein to any body, and symptoms fall on a spectrum. Celiac falls at the far end of this spectrum, with gluten sensitivities being less serious. Given that gluten is a sticky protein, when digested, it can erode the finger-like villi that line the small intestine, creating absorption issues and leaky gut. Symptoms from a gluten sensitivity or intolerance ranges from skin issues, digestive distress, to mental ailments such as anxiety and depression. Not to mention that chemical compounds found in wheat have been compared to opiates, which are highly addictive. An easy way to make your granola gluten-free is to choose gluten-free oats as your base.
Grain sensitivities and intolerants plague a smaller population, but even for those who have not been diagnosed, many people will report relief after reducing them from their diet. Humans don’t actually need to eat grains, and our digestive systems haven’t fully evolved to be able to digest them well. So why were they the base of the US food pyramid for so long. Unfortunately, it was a recommendation that sprouted from false studies in the 1950s and 1960s. If cutting out grains is something you practice, or you simply want to play around with it, try forgoing the oats, and use nuts, seeds, coconut chips, and buckwheat groats instead. gratisfied has a grain-free granola coming out in 2021, so stay tuned!
4. Bake with heart-healthy oils and fats that can withstand high-heat
If you see canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, or grapeseed oil in a recipe, substitute with healthier oils 1:1. Both coconut oil and avocado oil are your best bet, as not only are they more beneficial to your body, but they can withstand high heat when baking. This is why these options are better than olive oil, that can break down under heat, causing it to become carcinogenic. Coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride, making it unique and especially beneficial for energy production and metabolism.
Other fats you can use to make your own granola are grass-fed butter (if you can tolerate dairy) and ghee. Both not only provide a buttery taste, but can provide some B vitamins and they can withstand heat. Ghee (also called “clarified butter) originated in ancient India, and has long been known as a healthy substance in cooking and baking. The casein (protein) and lactose (sugar) have both been removed from ghee, making it more tolerable for those with dairy sensitivities.
5. Use nuts, seeds, and other superfoods instead of dried fruit
If a recipe calls for dried fruit, omit or swap out for extra nuts, seeds, and/or superfoods like chia seeds. Dried fruit packs a fructose punch, and can negatively affect your blood sugar (and hunger levels) as a result.
Looking for a delicious and nutritious recipe to try? Bake the one below! And don’t forget, the longer you allow your granola batch to cool, the more it will clump!
Vanilla Cardamom Spiced Granola
3 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1 cup buckwheat groats
3/4 cup coconut chips
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chopped nuts of choice (I’ve used both pecans and pistachios)
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/3 – 1/2 cup coconut nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons melted ghee (optional, for a butter taste!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the gluten-free oats, buckwheat groats, coconut chips, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts, chia seeds, sea salt, cinnamon and cardamom and stir.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, coconut nectar, vanilla extract, and melted ghee. Add the wet ingredients to dry mixture and blend well.
Evenly spread the granola mixture on the baking sheet, flattening with back of spatula. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and press again with back of spatula and rotate baking sheet. Bake 7-10 more minutes until edges are golden brown. Allow to completely cool (at least 1-2 hours) to yield the most clumps.