Granola, the superfood you aren't getting enough of

Updated July 11, 2018

There’s a long-standing myth that healthy eating has to taste bad. It’s supposed to be all salads, bland yoghurts and vegetables, like a punishment conveyed through your diet. In reality, there’s a whole spectrum of healthy foods, some of which have the potential to protect against a wide array of conditions including heart disease – effectively providing the benefits of healthy eating without the drab, dull taste. Granola has a rich history, and has long been incorporated into healthy diets, and its taste has come a long way since the early days. If you’re looking to improve your diet, there are plenty of unique ways to do it by incorporating some granola.

The history of granola

Cereal as we know it has its roots in granola. The invention came out of America, at a time when the traditional, cholesterol-packed British approach to breakfast (sausage, bacon, eggs, along with toast, more meat and some hot grains) dominated kitchens around the country. James Caleb Jackson – despite holding some unusual ideas about the curative powers of water – was something of a visionary when it comes to health, realising the benefits of healthy eating (as well as avoiding alcohol and tobacco) and encouraging a diet high in fruit, vegetables and unprocessed grains. He was to invent what we now know as granola, although it wasn’t the most appealing of foods at first.

Jackson invented granola from graham flour, which was formed into dough before being baked, broken apart, and then baked another time before a final crushing into smaller pieces. The result was a cereal that you had to soak overnight in milk before so much as being able to eat! The idea was taken on board by Dr. John Kellogg, who refined the recipe as well as flaking apart the grains so the cereal was actually edible without a prolonged marinade in milk. However, Kellogg brought the world numerous other cereals, and granola was all but forgotten about until a revival was brought about by the hippies in the 60s, who also added dried fruit and nuts, producing the form of granola we’re all familiar with today. As a result, hippies were often called “crunchy.”

The benefits of granola

Some allege that granola isn’t the health-food it’s purported to be, but – while this is true in some cases – this is wholly unfair. It’s like if you take a fruit, say a peach, it’s healthy unless you smother it in full-fat cream before eating! Granola in itself is composed of whole grains, nuts and dried fruit, but the variation in calories, fat content and health food potential comes with the extras that are added in afterwards.

The oats in granola provide fibre and iron, with the nuts and seeds offering unsaturated fats, which are essential for a healthy heart. Fibre is not only essential for regular bowel movements, it also helps to control blood sugar levels, and the increased chewing-time required with fibrous foods helps you register when you’re full before you’ve overeaten. Iron is vital for the transport of oxygen within the blood, so a deficiency in it can lead to anaemia, and the limitation on your body’s oxygen supply can mean you get tired sooner when you exercise.

Getting more granola in your diet

Granola can be eaten in a multitude of ways, forming everything to a healthy breakfast to a delicious dessert, so you’re far from limited when it comes to what to do. The first step is to pick up a low-fat, whole grain and vitamin-rich granola. Special K Granola ticks all of these boxes, with 30 percent less fat than the average fat content of other granola cereals on the market, five whole grains (oats, spelt, rye, barley and wheat), iron, six different B vitamins and plenty of fibre. Although a traditional cereal is the most well-known way to eat granola, you can incorporate it into numerous other elements of your diet.

It works excellently as a dry snack; you can either eat it from the bag, or add other dried fruit and nuts to the mixture to make a unique trail mix. If you’re prone to snacking throughout the day, this is a fantastic option for something healthy to graze on, and makes it easy to incorporate more fibre, fruit and nuts into your diet. Even if you’re sticking to the cereal-and-milk approach to granola, you can add more fruit and nut into the mixture in exactly the same way – try incorporating banana and serving with almond milk for a delicious variation on the classic cereal.

If you’re looking for something to spruce up a salad, you can also incorporate granola in place of croutons, adding some crunch to the mixture and imparting delicious flavour. Similarly, you can top soups with granola, with one blogger suggesting using it to accompany butternut squash soup. For a dessert, try topping a parfait with granola (layered strawberry jam, yoghurt and granola), or even sprinkling granola on top of vanilla ice cream. For a little treat with a healthy element, try covering strawberries in chocolate and rolling them in granola!

Go easy with granola, though. Particularly with desserts, just because you’re eating a meal including granola doesn’t mean it’s entirely healthy! Aside from on occasion, it’s best to stick with low-fat formulations of the food and be careful about what you add to the mix – fruit and nuts are good, but when you start incorporating chocolate, cream or sugar you undermine the health-food element somewhat.

Granola or granula?

We may know granola by that name now, but the original form was called granula by its creator James Jackson. The name came from the fact that it was in the form of granules, which admittedly makes more sense than the non-word “granola.” Originally, this name was espoused by Kellogg when he begun selling the improved form of the cereal. It seemed destined to be called granula for good, but Jackson noticed his invention being sold by somebody else and wasn’t particularly happy with it.

Jackson sued Kellogg over his use of the name, and this led to the invention of the term granola we use today. After a small change to the name, Kellogg trade-marked his own version of the dessert, and his success cemented granola into the popular consciousness.

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About the Author

Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.