Before packaged foods were mainstream, homemade granola was the only way that people ate granola. Today, you are likely to find table sugar, corn syrup, GMO's, rice flour or "crisp rice" (sweetened white rice) and an array of other non-nutritive foods, additives and preservatives in the packages of granola on the supermarket shelves. Even the granolas that are marketed as healthy alternatives, including the fruit and yogurt parfaits that are sold at McDonald's and Starbucks are primarily sugar. As you probably guessed, granola's biggest problem is sugar and non-nutritive calories. Most brands deliver at least 200 calories per serving and most servings are less than a half cup. One cup of Bear Naked's Banana Nut granola packs 560 calories. Even Bear Naked's Fit Granola has 480 calories per cup.
Tip: Unless you can afford 400 to 550 calories in a cup of cereal, be aware that most commercial granolas are calorie busters. Make your own granola using wholesome, organic ingredients and limiting the amount of sweetener. Or, mix your favorite densely caloric cereal with puffed kashi, kamut or whole grain organic flakes.
My personal granola recipe:
4 cups organic old fashioned rolled oats
2 cups organic unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup chopped pecans
1 Tablespoon organic cinnamon
½ cup organic extra virgin coconut oil
½ cup raw organic honey
Pink Himalayan Sea Salt
Combine the oats, coconut, almonds, pecans, and cinnamon. Melt the coconut oil and the honey. Mix all ingredients together well. Bake on two cookie sheets at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with pink himalayan sea salt. Break into pieces and store in airtight containers.
Commercial smoothies are loaded with sugar and calories. Jamba Juice's large banana berry smoothie packs a whopping 590 calories and 122 grams of sugar!!! That equates to over 30 teaspoons of sugar!
Tip: Make your own smoothie using a blender. Add a banana, 1 cup of unsweetened organic almond milk, 2 kale leaves and ice.
We all need quick nutrition when we are on the go. Even I grab an energy bar once in a while when I find myself starving and unprepared. It happens! But, your best bet is to prepare yourself with healthy snacks and to avoid having to open a package to get quick nutrition. Clif Bars claim to be energy bars, but they are glued together with 4 to 6 teaspoons of sugar. Clif Luna Bars (The Whole Nutrition Bar for Women) aren't any better. They contain a mix of soy protein isolate, rice flour and sugar. In my opinion, none of those ingredients qualify as whole nutrition.
Tip: If you need energy, eat calories in the form of real food, such as fruit, raw veggies, a hard boiled egg or raw nuts, not a vitamin fortified, soy spiked cookie or bar full of sugar.
Yoplait has improved its products by removing high fructose corn syrup from its yogurts, a cheap sugar substitute that is laden with genetically modified corn and has been linked to a higher prevalance of diabetes. This followed a commitment that its milk would come from cows not treated with rbGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) which has been linked to increased rates of infections in cows, elevated antibiotic use and unresolved questions about its links to cancer and other serious human health risks. But, yoplait and other commercial yogurts still have 27 grams of sugar, which equates to more than 5 teaspoons and 170 calories, 108 coming from.. you guessed it.. SUGAR! The light version isn't much better, having replaced some of the sugar with aspartame. Aspartame does not promote weight losss and it is full of chemicals. Not to mention, the long term effects of aspartame are still unknown. Studies have shown potential connections to cancer, diabetes, birth defects and difficulty losing weight.
Tip: Try St. Benoit whole Jersey milk yogurt, sprinkled with organic flaxseed and a tablespoon of healthy homemade granola. Make this a meal rather than a snack.
Real milk really does do a body good. It has valuable nutrients including calcium, and vitamins D, A, E and K. Well, skim milk actually has no Vitamin K because it is concentrated in the butter fat of the milk, which is removed during processing. As for the vitamins, they are fat soluble so even if you get a trace of them in your skim milk, you won't absorb them due to the lack of fat in the milk. As for the rest of nutrition in skim milk? During high-heat pasturziation, the protein is denatured and therefore potentially harmful, the beneficial enzymes are destroyed and there is no trace of probiotic microflora which aids in digestion. Did you know that powdered milk solids, which have been shown to increase infammation in the body, are often mixed into non- fat and low- fat milk products? Shockingly, dairly manufacturers are not required by the FDA to label the powdered milk because its technically still milk.
Tip: There's no reason to buy fat- free or low- fat dairy products and there is no reason to avoid the healthy saturated fat found in milk, which is essential to health. Skim milk is a highly processed food, usually born of a factory, not a farm. The best choice is fresh, clean milk from happy cows grazing on the grass of a real farm. Drink your milk just the way it came from the cow- whole unprocessed, and with all its nutrients intact, including the fat.
Jennifer Lima is the owner of Energeia Fitness in Los Gatos, California and the Director of Group Fitness at the South Valley YMCA. She is a NASM certified personal trainer and nutrition fitness expert. When she isn’t coercing her clients into doing ridiculously effective exercises, she enjoys riding her dirt bike, rock climbing and watching Downton Abbey in plank position.