Breakfast Rescue: What to Watch for When Choosing Granola

A close look at granola nutrition labels may show revealing details.

— -- Granola: nuts, oats, raisins. It’s healthy right?

Granola has gotten some press for being calorie-dense, but I wondered whether newer granola had gotten lighter. So, on a recent trip to the supermarket, I checked the nutrition labels.

I was surprised to see the calorie content and fat-sugar numbers weren’t as extreme as I’d expected.

Udi’s Original, Love Crunch Chocolate Macaroon, and Bear Naked Fruit & Nutty were all under 150 calories, had 6 grams of fat and 7 grams of sugar. But then I looked closer and the serving size was only one-fourth cup.

One-fourth a cup turned out to be just four to five spoons worth when I tried it with milk. That wasn’t enough to fill me up and I wondered whether others would know and pay attention to that serving size.

I took to the streets of Livermore, California, offering people free breakfast to find out.

I told people to serve themselves a normal portion and tell us how they liked the granola.

The first person to try poured himself a full cup of cereal. When I did the math, his quadrupling of the serving size netted 600 calories, 24 grams of fat and 28 grams of sugar.

In our experiment, five more people poured themselves a full cup, three people poured one-fourth cup and three people poured one-half cup. For those pouring themselves one cup of granola, the revelation of their calorie content was shocking.

When we gave them a food equivalent on fats and sugar, they were really freaked out: a quarter-pound hamburger with a half of a cola has less fat and about the same amount of sugar.

Now, granola is likely to have more fiber than our burger and cola analogy, but given that the World Health Organization is advising women to cut their added sugar intake to 25 grams a day and men to 36 grams a day, the 28 grams of sugar in the cup of granola seems like a significant amount.

Not all granola has as small a serving size as the three brands we identified.

Cascadian Farms serving size is two-thirds cup that comes in at 230 calories with 6 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar. Kind Vanilla Blueberry offers a one-half cup serving with 210 calories, 5 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar.

But even these options seem relatively high in caloric density when you consider one cup of Cheerios is 104 calories with 1.9 grams of fat and 1.2 grams of sugar.

The bottom line is, in a lot of cases, granola is a condiment, not a meal. Choose carefully and read the serving sizes.

Below are statements from the companies:

BEAR NAKED

Like all packaged food at the grocery store, Bear Naked serving sizes follow the FDA regulations based on “reference amount customarily consumed” or RACC and common household measures. Granolas tend to use hearty ingredients like dried fruits, nuts and seeds to round out whole grain nutrition. This means that while ¼ cup may not take up a lot of space on your plate, a serving of granola still offers a powerful combination of nutrients and whole foods.”

BOULDER BRANDS/UDI

“Udi’s follows FDA guidelines and industry precedent in reporting nutritional facts by serving size so that consumers who are looking for nutritional panel information can make informed buying choices and compare products easily. Udi’s granola combines high-quality oats, simple ingredients, and a bit of honey to create delicious granolas that people can enjoy, whether that’s on top of yogurt or straight from the bag.”

NATURE’S PATH

We make a variety of organic cereals and granolas to suit all taste buds and diets. Love Crunch is our premium organic granola most often enjoyed as a snack or sprinkled on yogurt, smoothies, cereal and oatmeal. We adhere to the FDA mandated 30g serving size for grain-based snack mixes such as Love Crunch.