June 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

Nutrition

Tips to make granola a healthy part of your diet

Watch the ingredients and the portion size when eating granola. (TMS Photo)

Granola used to be one of those foods like yogurt that you could only find in health food stores where earthy, health-conscious people shopped. Fortunately, granola is now mainstream. Not only does every grocery store sell it, but they also carry all kinds of flavors and varieties.

Granola is great on its own as a breakfast cereal, but itís also fun to sprinkle over yogurt to add a little crunch, to mix with dried fruits for a mid-day snack, or to just eat right out of the bag for an anytime snack.

Bare-bones granola is basically oats, with perhaps some nuts and sweetener, toasted until crunchy. Muesli contains similar ingredients, but itís not toasted and has a chewier texture. Oats and additions such as nuts, seeds and dried fruits can add important nutrients to your diet, including heart-healthy soluble fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and phytochemicals (plant compounds with health-protective activities).

But many supermarket granolas and muesli have extra ingredients that contribute to high fat and/or high sugar contents.

Before you grab some granola, check these tips to make sure itís a healthy part of your diet:

1. Pare down portions. Though it can be healthy, granola isnít necessarily a low-calorie food. If youíre sprinkling it on yogurt, limit it to a few tablespoons. If you like it as a breakfast cereal, mix one-half cup of granola with one-half cup of another whole grain cereal, such as shredded wheat, oatmeal cereal or bran cereal.

2. Check the sugar. Some granolas are loaded with sugar; flip the box over and check the label before tossing it into your cart. Look for those with 10 grams (2 Ĺ teaspoon) of sugar or less per serving. Keep in mind that the grams of sugar listed on the label include those found naturally in fruit. Look to the ingredients list to identify sources of added sugar, which can include forms like honey, agave nectar and corn syrup.

3. Know the ingredients. Granola is a fairly simple food, so the ingredient list should be short and include ingredients you can find in your kitchen.