Do you know really what’s in your granola? Dr Megan Rossi PhD RD, aka the ‘The Gut Health Doctor’ and Sunday Times best-selling author of Eat Yourself Healthy, reveals that despite granola being most people’s ‘go-to’ for a healthy breakfast, the inconvenient reality is that not all granolas are made equal.
She noticed that gut health claims are everywhere, but sadly too many of the granolas we eat and feed our kids every day aren’t necessarily doing our gut any favours. So Dr Megan took it upon herself to create her own delicious food brand, Bio&Me, which is founded in science so it is genuinely nutritious and is able to make a ‘good for your gut’ health claim, one of the first of its kind.
Dr Megan outlines 5 inconvenient truths when looking for healthier granola
Many contain added sugar
Many granolas contain added sugar with some reaching pretty steep proportions. And if you think this is all about sweet flavourings like chocolate, guess again. Even natural sounding ingredients such as honey, coconut sugar, agave, date syrup, maple syrup and the like, are still added sugars.
Dr Megan’s top tip: Look for the source of the sugar – aim for whole fruits
It’s true that watching the amount of added sugars in your diet is a good idea, but this shouldn’t be confused with naturally occuring sources of sugar, from whole fruits, which bring a wealth of health benefits to you and your gut microbes. Bio&Me granolas contain only naturally occuring sugar from plant-based foods, with dates being the primary source. Your gut and overall health will benefit more from using fibre-filled whole fruits to add sweetness. That way, you’re also getting up to 1,000% more beneficial nutrients too.
Majority have poor fibre diversity
Cereals are often seen as a ‘healthy high fibre’ option – but 44% don’t meet the fibre levels set out by WHO in marketing guidelines, and many others just add in a single token refined fibre to meet the marketing tick box. It’s estimated that only 1 in 10 Brits are getting enough of the good gut stuff. And poor gut health is linked to over 70 chronic diseases. Most guidelines recommend getting around 30g of fibre a day, but most of us are getting less than 20g. Fibre is an essential nutrient for many reasons because it feeds our trillions of gut microbes so choosing foods with a wide array of fibre sources is an important gut health choice.
Dr Megan’s top tip: Opt for granolas with a rich diversity of fibre sources, not just one or two
When it comes to fibre it’s all about the diversity of fibre sources which comes from our 6 plant-based food groups (wholegrains, veg, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses and herbs and spices). The more variety, the better. This ‘super’ nutrient contributes to bulking out our poop (which is a good thing), thickening the contents of our gut and keeping us regular. It also plays a role in helping many chronic conditions and lowering cholesterol levels, as well as helping to prevent blood sugar spikes and keeping us feeling fuller for longer. It’s also our gut microbe’s favourite nutrient. Look for granolas with a minimum of 6g of fibre per 100g that comes from a range of plant-based ingredients. Bio&Me granolas not only contains up to 15.7g fibre per 100g but 15 different plant-based ingredients.
There are important differences in the fats
Granolas contain fat. It’s what gives it that satisfying crunchy texture and helps to keep you fuller for longer. However not all oils are beneficial to gut health. Refined oils in particular,have been cut of much of their beneficial plant chemicals. This is because the process of ‘refining’ involves high heat, high pressure and chemicals.
Dr Megan’s top tip: Granolas made with Extra Virgin olive oil are the way to go
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is one of the most studied oils, as it’s loaded with a range of plant chemicals with antioxidant powers (polyphenols and other phytochemicals). Indeed good quality EVOO has been linked to a wide-ranging health benefits, including for your heart, brain and gut health in studies. This is why EVOO is used in the Bio&Me range. And yes, it should be Extra Virgin. Just like wine, there are different grades, from extra virgin (the highest grade), to refined and blended olive oils. Whilst Extra Virgin olive oil is minimally processed, it’s literally the juice ‘squeezed’ out of the olive flesh.
Many carry food additives, specifically emulsifiers
There are hundreds of additives in the foods we buy. From preservatives and colouring, to emulsifiers, and sweeteners, the food additives market is big business. Many supermarket granolas contain multiple additives that might not be all that good for our gut microbes. Emulsifiers are made from plant, animal and synthetic sources, which are added to processed foods to maintain the integrity of food texture and extend shelf life. Some emulsifiers can act like detergents, and early stage animal research suggest they may have a negative impact on our gut microbes.
Dr Megan’s top tip: Check the pack for natural flavourings rather than chemical emulsifiers While it’s still early days in the research, it’s a good idea to limit food additives, including emulsifiers in your diet.
Suggested serving sizes are not helpful
A typical suggested serving size of granola is about 30-50g, which is around 3 tablespoons, depending on how hungry you are and your body’s energy needs. In reality, we often end up eating much more when granola is poured loosely from the box. Coupled with the fact that different brands recommend different serving sizes, the nutrition in your bowl can vary significantly. And of course, this impacts how much it benefits your gut biome.
Dr Megan’s top tip: Compare nutrition by 100g, not by recommended serving size
When comparing the nutrition panel between products, it’s a good idea to compare like for like. Looking at granola’s nutritional values by ‘per 100g’ is a simple and more accurate way of understanding which granola is right for you, instead of looking at the companies’ suggested ‘serving size’, which is often manipulated for marketing purposes.