Growing up, I’d hear the term “crunchy-granola” to describe people who were health-conscious and eco-minded. And indeed, they were the types who visited our local health food store and loaded up on granola from the bulk bins. In those days, “granola” typically meant super-dry oats, sad-looking raisins and maybe a few almonds. Was I interested in getting in on the granola fad? Absolutely not.
Fast forward a few decades, and things have changed. Now, when I visit any grocery store in New York City, I find entire aisles dedicated to granola in fancy-looking, colorful packages. As much as I enjoy a good pumpkin cinnamon or dark chocolate chunk granola, I’m often skeptical about what I’m putting in my body — and end up wondering if it’s any better than a cookie.
To find out which granola brands I should mix with my Icelandic yogurt at breakfast time and which ones I should save for dessert, I asked registered dietitians to share their top granola picks, plus the ones they avoid.
Here’s what they had to say.
I quickly noticed a common theme when I started polling different dietitians: They love the Purely Elizabeth brand, specifically the grain-free granola.
“I love most of the Purely Elizabeth brand of granola line, but I often find myself specifically recommending the grain-free granola varieties,” said registered dietician Jen Scheinman, the nutrition affairs manager of Timeline Nutrition. “They are loaded with nutritious seeds that most people don’t eat enough of, like sunflower, hemp, and chia seeds. Plus, they are lightly sweetened with coconut sugar, so they only have 5 grams of sugar per serving.”
Don’t let the Whole Foods or organic labels fool you into thinking this granola is healthy.
“With 15 grams of added sugar per one half-cup cup serving, it has one of the highest levels of added sugars in the category,” registered dietician Samantha Cassetty said. For context, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women, and no more than 36 grams for men.
“So, to put that in perspective, a woman would check off 60% of her added sugar target with a measly amount of granola,” Cassetty noted. “Fifteen grams of added sugar is also as much sugar as five of Whole Foods’ Oatmeal Cookies and more than what you’d find in a typical cinnamon donut. So, you’re eating dessert disguised as granola.”
“I consider this one the most satiating granolas on the market,” said Yelena Wheeler, a registered dietician and nutritionist at Medical Inspiration Daily For Stronger Society. “Half a cup will get you 320 calories, 4 grams of fiber, 10 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein. The ingredients are gluten-free and paleo-friendly, with no additives or artificial sugars.”
With 5 grams of fiber, Wheeler said this granola may seem like a nutritious choice. But it isn’t.
“It also has 20 grams of added sugar,” with its second ingredient being cane sugar, she said.
A chewy alternative to traditional granola, this option combines 100% whole grain oats with real dark chocolate chunks, peanut butter and chopped peanuts, registered dietician nutritionist Lauren Manaker noted. With 4 grams of fiber and 10 grams of sugar per half-cup serving, “these granola clusters are easy to enjoy when you are on the move on their own, or they can be a nice topping to add to your yogurt parfait,” Manaker said.
This granola packs a lot of sugar and little nutrition.
“For a half-cup serving, this only contains 2 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and 14 grams of sugar,” Wheeler said.
With no artificial sweeteners or colors, this granola is a favorite of Mary Wirtz, a registered dietician and board-certified sports dietitian.
“This is one of my favorite granola brands as per one-fourth cup serving, there are only 6 grams of sugar and 2 grams of dietary fiber,” she said, adding that it tastes great.
“This is one of my least favorite granola brands as per two-thirds cup serving, there are 18 grams of sugar, 8 grams of fat and 290 calories,” Wirtz said. “This granola has more sugar than a serving of Oreo cookies.”
“This store-bought granola checks so many boxes,” Cassetty said. “Some of the main concerns with granola are small portion sizes — sometimes as puny as one-fourth cup — and the high amount of added sugar. This version has no added sugar or alternative sweeteners, but it has a touch of sweetness from date powder.”
This granola is nourishing and contains 25 grams of whole grains, 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber in a two-thirds cup serving — a large portion when it comes to granola, Cassetty said.
“And all of the nutrients come from whole foods,” she added. “If you’re not going to make your own granola (and full disclosure, I rarely do), this is the next best thing.”
Hello, sugar bomb! Forget any other health benefits, because the amount of sugar in this granola will cancel them out.
“This one is incredibly jam-packed with sugar, coming in at 18 grams of sugar per serving,” said Yelena Wheeler, a registered dietician and nutritionist at Medical Inspiration Daily For Stronger Society.