CALS Wellness Committee tip: Granola’s surprisingly fun history, plus portion size guidance

Granola. A popular breakfast food, and sometimes insult, was first developed and trademarked in the 1860s. No longer under trademark, the food is now offered in many forms, from straightforward cereal, to trail mix, bars, and parfaits. 

After seeming to fade from popular culture during the 20th century, it was resurrected in the 1960s when promoter Layton Gentry claimed to have invented it himself and then sold the recipe. (For more information about this history of granola, use the UW Library system to access the 2012 New York Times article “Who Made That Granola.”) It caught on as an alternative to modern sugary cereals and gained fame in 1969, when Woodstock photographer Lisa Law asked the festival organizers for $3,000 to buy rolled oats, bulger, wheat germ, dried apricots, currants, almonds, soy sauce, and honey to make granola, or “muesli,” after vendors ran short of food. As described in this Smithsonian article, volunteers fed around 130,000 people the cereal, doled out in Dixie cups.

Today, many varieties of granola are available in stores, and a simple internet search will bring back pages and pages of recipes from books, magazines, television shows, celebrities, and even nutritionists.

High protein, low fat, high fiber, low sugar — how do you know what to look for? 

A common theme in many health-centered discussions is to first pay attention to how much you are eating. A food testing team with Consumer Reports (CR) asked 124 consumers to pour out their typical amounts of a low-density cereal (Cheerios), a medium-density one (Quaker Oatmeal Squares), and high-density granola (Quaker Simply Oats, Honey, Raisins & Almonds).

The results? In a 2019 article titled “Is Granola Good for You?,” the CR team reported that ninety-two percent of the participants poured more than the recommended serving size of all the cereal types. “But the denser the cereal, the more they exceeded the serving size. For granola, the average ‘overpour’ was 282 percent.”  

The average serving size for granola is ½ cup, so the team recommended looking closely at nutrition labels for store-bought granola. “If you’re comparing the nutrition info between cereals — but not checking the serving sizes — you could be basing your buying decision on misinformation,” said CR nutritionist Ellen Klosz, in the article.

According to a MedlinePlus article about diet-busting foods, many commercial versions of granola have added sugar and fat — so watch for that. Or you can try making your own granola from scratch. Below are a couple of recipes to try: