Why Your Granola Is Really a Dessert

Dr. Kellogg wanted to keep his cereals sugar-free — he was a Seventh-day Adventist who famously advocated against alcohol, meat, sugar, tobacco and sexual activity. But his brother, Will, insisted on sweetening them, and the two parted ways. Will went on to launch the Kellogg Company, and its enormously popular sweet cereals, which eventually included Froot Loops and Cocoa Krispies.

While sugary cereals soared in popularity over the following decades, granola remained a mainstay in the Seventh-day Adventist community, which is known to shun foods high in sugar, salt and other additives. Packaged granola is believed to have first appeared in the 1960s when one Adventist and granola promoter, Layton Gentry — nicknamed Johnny Granola-Seed by Time magazine — sold his recipe of rolled oats, wheat germ and sesame seeds to two food companies. As granola crossed over from the Seventh-day Adventist community to the mainstream, it became increasingly laden with sugar.

By the 1970s, one popular granola recipe by the celebrity nutritionist Adelle Davis, whose cookbooks and health books sold millions of copies, called for five cups of rolled oats, one cup of wheat germ and one cup of honey, among other things. At around the same time, the Quaker Oats Company, Kellogg’s and General Mills also began introducing their own sweetened, mainstream versions of granola.

There are signs that some consumers are rethinking their penchant for sweetened cereals. A study last year by the market research firm Packaged Facts found that two out of three Americans said they were seeking out grocery foods with fewer and simpler ingredients. The NPD Group recently found that sugar is the No. 1 ingredient Americans are looking to avoid.

As a result, some lightly sweetened brands of granola are starting to emerge. Mr. Bellatti, the dietitian, said he often recommends Mamma Chia’s vanilla almond granola, which has about 10 grams of sugar per cup.

Homemade granola is also an option, but many recipes include lots of sugar, which gives granola its clumpy texture. Amy Roskelley, owner of the Super Healthy Kids website, makes a sugar-free version using egg whites for clumping, and cinnamon and fresh fruit like blueberries for flavor.

Ms. Bjork, the nutrition blogger, says granola is best avoided altogether, and she labeled granola bars one of “Five Foods to Skip This Year” on her website.

“People are always surprised when I tell them it’s not as healthy as they think it is,” she said.

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