Granola has lots of good things going for it. It’s convenient, crunchy and delicious. Plus, it’s incredibly versatile. After all, how many foods can you eat for breakfast, snacks and dessert?
But how healthy is granola, really? “Historically, granola tends to wear a “health halo” and has a reputation as a “diet food,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. Sure, it’s usually made with whole grains, nuts and seeds, but it can also pack loads of fat, sugar and calories.
Pictured Recipe: Grandpa’s Homemade Granola
If you’re wondering if it’s OK to eat granola every day (or if it’s best reserved as a special treat), here’s what you need to know.
What Is Granola?
Granola is a simple, crunchy mix of several ingredients. “To make granola, rolled oats are mixed with a sweetener like honey or maple syrup, oil and accents like nuts, spices or dried coconut,” says Kelly LeBlanc, RD, director of nutrition at Oldways. Then, the mixture is baked until crunchy. The result is a hearty, whole-grain, flavor-filled cereal.
Granola Nutrition Facts
According to the USDA, ½ cup of typical granola (brands vary) contains:
- Calories: 202
- Protein: 5 g
- Total fat: 5.6 g
- Saturated fat: 0.6 g
- Carbohydrate: 35 g
- Fiber: 5 g
- Sugars: 10 g
- Sodium: 24 mg
- Iron: 1 g
- Magnesium: 58 mg
- Potassium: 232 mg
Health Benefits of Granola
Better Heart Health
Many varieties of granola are heart-healthy. “Granola’s oats are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol,” says Harris-Pincus. So eat up. One meta-analysis published in 2022 in the European Journal of Nutrition concluded that adding oats to your diet improves total and “bad” LDL cholesterol, as well as body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. Among various pieces of data, the meta-analysis cited earlier research that found that people at risk for heart disease who consumed roughly 1½ ounces of granola daily slashed their total and LDL cholesterol in 6 weeks. Oats are also rich in blood-pressure-lowering antioxidants called avenanthramides, notes 2020 research in Current Developments in Nutrition.
Granola’s soluble fiber slows down digestion, helping to prevent between-meal hunger pangs. Studies show that oat’s beta-glucan may also control appetite by boosting the satiety hormones cholecystokinin and PYY, according to a 2023 review in Current Nutrition Reports.
Healthier Gut Bacteria
When volunteers in a 2022 Frontiers in Nutrition study ate 3½ ounces of high-fiber granola daily for just 3 days, their numbers of blood-sugar-controlling gut bacteria grew. As encouraging as this is, the study’s granola packed a hefty 16 to 22 grams of fiber per serving, roughly double the amount in typical store-bought granola, per the USDA.
A Nutrition Boost
Granola often travels with other nutritious foods, whether it’s a bowl of granola with milk and a banana for breakfast or a yogurt-berry parfait as a snack. No wonder research in the journal Nutrients in 2019 shows that ready-to-eat cereal eaters have healthier diets than people who shy away from a bowl.
Granola may seem like it’s all about the grains, but it often boasts a hidden secret: Lots of sugar. Sugar varies by brand, but one example is a popular brand of low-fat granola, which packs more than 1 tablespoon of added sugar per serving.
To know for sure, scan the ingredient list for sugars like honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup or molasses. Then head to the Nutrition Facts label to scout out added sugars. What about the naturally occurring sugars in dried fruit? No need to obsess about these guys. They’re wrapped in a package of digestion-slowing fiber along with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
You might be surprised at the calories in each serving. “Granola is a dense food, so its calories can add up more quickly than a comparable amount of puffed cereal,” says LeBlanc. To complicate matters, serving sizes are based on weight, so they can be all over the place. For instance, a serving might be as tiny as ¼ cup, with only 120 calories, like in Nature Valley Granola. Or it could be as large as ¾ cup, delivering 260 calories like in this flavor of Nature’s Path Granola. And homemade granola may contain nearly 600 calories per cup, according to the National Library of Medicine.
If your favorite brand contains added nuts, peanut butter, chocolate chips or coconut flakes, calories can inch even higher. If calories are a concern, keep an eye on portion sizes. To eliminate the guesswork, LeBlanc recommends keeping a 1/4- or 1/3-cup measuring cup in your granola box or jar and portioning it out before pouring it into your bowl.
Unsaturated fats from nuts and seeds or canola, olive or sunflower oils are no problem. However, some granola brands may contain several grams of saturated fat from ingredients like dried coconut or coconut oil, especially if they’re paleo, keto or grain-free. That can undo a lot of granola’s otherwise heart-supporting benefits.
How to Choose the Best Granola
What to Look For
The Nutrition Facts panel and the ingredient list can be a treasure trove of info. Look for:
- Simple ingredients. Whole oats should be first on the ingredient list, followed by other whole foods such as nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
- Fiber. Seek out a granola with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving.
- Unsaturated fats. Look for ingredients like nuts and seeds, as well as canola, olive and sunflower oils.
What to Limit
- Sugar. “If it’s not high in sugar, one daily serving of granola paired with milk or yogurt can be a great way to start the day,” says Abbie Gellman, M.S., RD, a culinary and nutrition expert. Less than 7 grams of sugar per serving is a good goal.
- Saturated fat. A little coconut oil never hurt anyone. But if you already eat a fair amount of saturated fat from foods like beef, butter and cheese, go for a granola made with vegetable oils.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is granola good for you?
It can be. “Standard granola often contains rolled oats, which provide fiber and complex carbohydrates, and nuts that contribute healthy fats, plant protein and vitamin E,” says Gellman. On the flip side, it can also be a source of saturated fats and added sugars, which are harmful for your heart when eaten in excess.
Are oats better than granola?
Though both can be included in your diet, oatmeal is probably a healthier pick over granola. “A bowl of oatmeal prepared with milk or milk alternative and topped with fresh berries and nuts will likely contain more protein, fiber and important nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium compared to granola, and it will have less added sugar,” says Harris-Pincus.
Is it OK to eat granola every day?
Yes. “Granola does contain important nutrients, and if you enjoy it, eating some every day is probably fine as part of a balanced diet,” says Harris-Pincus. There are some distinct perks, too, she says: “For busy people and athletes who need carbs to fuel workouts, granola is a nutritious option that’s portable and nonperishable.”
Which granola is healthiest?
You’ll have to look at the nutrition label and ingredients list on the brands you enjoy or recipe you like to make at home. “Granola is a broad category, so ingredients vary depending on whether it’s store-bought or homemade, and the recipe itself,” says Gellman. A granola that’s high in fiber, low in added sugars and saturated fats and made with simple ingredients will be the healthiest choice.
The Bottom Line
Granola is healthy in small amounts, especially because oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit in granola provide some fiber that’s good for heart and gut health. However, granola can also be a rich source of calories, saturated fat and sugar, depending on the brand you buy.
Nutrition-wise, some brands are better choices than others, so don’t just toss any box into your shopping cart. Scan the nutrition label for one that’s high in fiber yet low in saturated fat and sugar. Then check out the ingredient list to make sure it’s made with the same healthy ingredients you’d find in your kitchen.