Granola, originally called granula and made with a mix of oatmeal, cornmeal and wheat flour, was created by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg as one of the first ready-to-eat cereals. It has gone through a few changes over the years and is now usually a mix of oats, nuts, seeds and sometimes dried fruit. Granola can give you a quick energy fix in the morning or after a workout, but some types are healthier than others.
Getting your recommended servings of whole grains and fiber is easier if you eat granola. The oats in granola count as one of your three recommended servings of whole grains, and grains, nuts and dried fruit all provide fiber. Granola may even help you improve your heart health, since part of the fiber in oats consists of beta-glucan, which can help lower your cholesterol levels. Fiber also helps lower your risk for heart disease and constipation and helps you control your blood sugar levels. A 1/2-cup serving of homemade granola contains 5.5 grams of fiber, which is 22 percent of the daily value of 25 grams of fiber for people who follow a 2,000-calorie diet.
Granola can be really filling, since it has protein from the nuts and the oats it contains. You also need protein for building and repairing cells in your body. Each 1/2-cup serving of homemade granola contains about 9 grams of protein, which is 18 percent of the DV. Eat your granola with skim milk or low-fat yogurt for an even bigger protein boost.
Granola is also a good source of micronutrients. Although the exact vitamin and mineral content depends on the type of granola, it is usually a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 and folate. Iron is essential for making the red blood cells that transport oxygen around your body; magnesium helps your muscles, nerves and immune system function properly; phosphorus is important for storing energy and keeping your heartbeat regular; and zinc is needed for forming proteins and DNA and healing wounds. You need vitamin E for preventing cell damage from free radicals, and the B vitamins help you digest your food, keep your brain and nervous system functioning properly and keep your skin, liver, eyes and hair healthy.
Don't pig out on granola, since it can be high in sugar, fat and calories, with a 1/2-cup serving containing about 15 grams of fat, 12 grams of sugar and 298 calories. Although a lot of the fat in granola comes from nuts and consists of mainly the heart-healthy unsaturated fat, you still need to eat it in moderation. It is best to make your granola yourself so that you can limit the amount of sugar and fat it contains. Opt for low-fat granola if you choose to use a store-bought variety, and compare brands to find the one lowest in sugar.
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