24 Feb 2021

Is granola good for you?

author Ashley Owen
Back in the day, yoghurt and granola was our favourite healthy breakfast. But with refined sugar and processed fats on some ingredients lists, is granola good for you?

What is granola?

Granola, in its most common form, is a type of breakfast cereal or snack which is eaten with milk, yoghurt and fruit. Usually, it is made with rolled oats, which are coated in a sweetener such as honey to bind them into clumps and then baked. The final texture is crisp and crunchy.

Many breakfast cereal manufacturers make granola in a variety of recipes including nuts and raisins, dried tropical fruits or chocolate.

What are the basic ingredients, and are they healthy?

At its most basic level, granola is simply a mixture of oats and honey.

Oats are healthy, especially if you’re consuming the wholegrain variety. They come with an impressive range of health benefits, from supporting your digestive health to lowering your cholesterol levels.(1)

They also contain vitamin E, folate, zinc, iron, selenium and many more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.(1)

It’s important to source your oats from an organic supplier, to avoid any pesticide residues.

Meanwhile, anyone who has ever experienced a sore throat will know and appreciate the healing power of raw honey. It has been reported to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects and is traditionally used to treat all manner of ailments, from hepatitis to hiccups!(2)

So, given that we’re starting with two nutrient-packed superstars, where does it all go wrong for granola?

Why is granola so bad for you?

In a nutshell, granola's problems began when companies began diverging from the basic recipe. While the basic ingredients of granola can be very healthy, the brands available in shops tend to contain many more ingredients than just these.

Not all added ingredients are bad, but some produce a granola which is loaded with unwanted extras. Let's take a look at the good guys and the bad guys.


is granola healthy

Added ingredients: the good guys

A quick browse of your local supermarket will quickly reveal that most granolas on sale consist of much more than oats and honey!

Some of these ingredients are added purely for flavour, and it’s pretty obvious that they are there. For example. A tropical granola might contain chunks of dried pineapple or coconut flakes.

Dried fruit is tricky to categorise as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ as, on the one hand, it contains nutrients such as vitamins and minerals which are good for you. It’s also usually quite high in fibre.

On the other hand, it concentrates all the sugar of the fruit down into one tiny morsel - and as such, you eat a lot more of it. Think, for example, how easy it is to eat a handful of raisins than a whole box of grapes!

Generally speaking, dried fruit is considered quite healthy as long as you moderate your intake. (Flavour boosters such as chocolate or caramel, however, have less of a plausible defence.)

The issue is that when you combine carbohydrate-rich oats with the sugars from honey and dried fruit, you end up with a calorific concoction which contains much more energy than many people realise.

Added ingredients: the bad guys

Now we’ve covered the most obvious additions to the oat and honey base, it’s time to delve further into the ingredients list. This is where you’ll find some ingredients you probably didn’t intend on eating!

For example, many commercial granolas contain (unsustainable) palm oil, rapeseed oil, flavourings, refined sugar, sweeteners, flour, syrups, starches and additives.

These are generally added to improve the flavour and texture of the granola. For example, adding oil while baking can help to give the granola a crisp texture. However, it also adds lots of unnecessary fat to your breakfast bowl, perhaps without you realising.

Meanwhile, the sugar, sweeteners and syrups hit our sweet tooth right at the start of the day and offer little to no nutritional value. You may think you’re eating just a small drizzle of honey, when the reality is that you're eating the amount of refined sugar you'd expect to see in a dessert!

What’s the problem with sugar?

Most children and adults in the UK(/US) eat too much sugar on a daily basis. In fact, in the UK, 61% of adults, 75% of children and a whopping 83% of adolescents get more than the recommended amount of energy from ‘free sugars’.(3)

Free sugars are the sugars found in processed food, which are more easily available for your body to absorb. Sugars found in unprocessed fruits and vegetables don’t count as free sugars. So, a glass of orange juice would contain free sugars, but an orange would not.

A high sugar diet is linked with obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay(3). It can also increase your risk of heart disease.(4)

Often, people who consume too much sugar simply don’t know how much of it the food they eat contains, versus how much they should be eating.

For example, the average man in the US consumes about 24 teaspoons of sugar a day. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (36g) per day. That’s about the amount contained in one can of fizzy drink, so you can see how easy it is to pass over our sugar limit without knowing.

In the UK, the NHS recommends eating a maximum of 90g of total sugars per day. This includes 30g of free sugars per day, which equates to about 7 sugar cubes.(5)

While food packaging currently makes it really hard to distinguish how much of the sugar in food is classed as free sugars, you can get a general idea from the nutritional values.

For example, a 45g serving of prepackaged granola could easily provide around 10g of sugar. It’s likely that a high proportion of that is added, or ‘free’ sugar.

Is granola processed?

Technically, all granola is processed to some degree because it's a food made out of ingredients which you have combined and cooked.

However, there are huge variations in the amount of processing used across different brands. Health experts are concerned about 'ultra-processed' foods which have been made at an industrial scale.

Of course, if you make your own granola at home, you're in the best position as you can control exactly which ingredients you use and how you make your granola.

In terms of shop-bought brands, the best thing you can do is check the ingredients on the label. Remember: all you need to make a classic granola is oats, honey and perhaps some nuts or dried fruit.

A good rule of thumb is that If the list contains any ingredient you wouldn't have in your kitchen at home, don't buy it. It's quite common to find artificial colours and flavours in shop-bought granola, but you can find options without these if you check the label.

Related reading


refined sugar