What’s in Your Granola?

Montana and granola is about as synonymous as Montana and beef;  it just depends on whether you wear cowboy boots or sandals.  (well, most of us don’t wear either, just making a point here.)


“The names Granula and Granola were registered trademarks in the late 19th century United States for foods consisting of whole grain products crumbled and then baked until crisp.” (from Wikipedia). It is said to have been invented by a Dr. James Caleb Jackson for use at the Jackson Sanitarium (which sounds like a mental institution but was actually a health spa) in New York.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that granola became mainstream food.  As it boomed in popularity, companies sought to capture market share by adding sugars to both soften it (which cut down on broken teeth and deafness from the high decibel noise of chewing it) and to keep it from tasting like woodchips.  (note the author of this article has never eaten woodchips; nor is it a recommend dietary supplement for granola)


Surprise!  Once the processed food industry got heavily involved in granola production, it rose to the top of most top ten lists of the unhealthiest foods you can eat.  The only thing that really remained from the original granola concept was the idea that it is healthy… and a few oats.


It’s easy to think of granola as a super convenient, tasty, healthy food but by most measures, the typical brand name granola bar is about as healthy as a candy bar.  And though in recent years there has been a revival in actually healthy and natural granola, the most popular granola bars, by far, in the nation, are the kind that include ingredients that would appear on a college chemistry class test.


Rather than outing all the bad brands, we thought we’d let you discover it on your own.  Below are some of the more common additives in granola bars that, if they appear on the back of your box of granola, you might just want to save money and buy a chocolate bar.


High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is manufactured from corn syrup by converting a large proportion of its glucose into fructose using the enzyme D-xylose isomerase, thus producing a sweeter compound due to higher levels of fructose.

High-maltose glucose syrup is used as a substitute for normal glucose syrup in the production of hard candy. Maltose is a component of malt, a substance which is obtained in the process of allowing grain to soften in water and germinate.


Lecithin (Soy lecithin) is a generic term to designate any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues(like soy lecithin) , which are amphiphilic – they attract both water and fatty substances (and so are both hydrophilic and lipophilic), and are used for smoothing food textures, dissolving powders (emulsifying), homogenizing liquid mixtures, and repelling sticking materials


Tricalcium phosphate is produced commercially by treating hydroxyapatite with phosphoric acid and slaked lime. “It is used as a stabilizer in plastics; in meat tenderizers; in food as a buffer and used in medical applications as a calcium replenisher.” toxnet.com


Maltodextrin is used to thicken food products and as a filler in sugar substitutes and other products.  It’s an artificially produced white powder that can be enzymatically derived from any starch but is commonly made from corn, rice, potato starch or wheat.


Polydextrose is a synthetic polymer of glucose, classified as soluble fiber. It is frequently used to increase the dietary fiber content of food, to replace sugar, and to reduce calories and fat content.

(definitions from wikipedia unless otherwise noted)


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