Naturally-Sweetened Homemade Granola


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a health workshop called "The Sugar Blues" put on by the lovely Tina Asma of Nourish + Flourish. Tina, a friend I met through a book club, is a Health Coach who specializes in providing personalized nutrition and healthy living support. She also holds fabulous workshops and classes, like the one I attended! In her "Sugar Blues" workshop, Tina shared eye-opening information about what processed sugar does to your body and how you can make better choices to live a healthier lifestyle.

I know what you're thinking. Me, at a sugar workshop? Yes, I was basically squirming in my seat, knowing good and well that she would probably yell at me if she only knew the truth behind my terrible sugar ways. But in all honesty, ever since I went to her workshop and started implementing a few of her easy diet changes, I have really noticed a difference in the way I feel, especially in the mornings (no more hunger pains at 9:30 A.M.)! I'm also just a lot more aware about how much processed sugar I consume every day.


So I decided to revisit my favorite granola recipe (my go-to breakfast food), thinking that there had to be a better way to make it without so much added sugar. I revised my original recipe, taking out all of the processed sugars and replacing them with Tina's suggested natural sweeteners. I even talked with her a little bit about switching out the vegetable oil for ghee (I haven't gone quite that far yet, but maybe someday)! The best part: the recipe is as awesome as ever. Perfectly crunchy, a little sweet, and great with yogurt. I'm in love!

I asked Tina if she would share some of these facts about processed sugar with you since I found them to be so interesting and helpful. Of course this is a short recap of Tina's workshop; sign up for her next one to get all of the facts firsthand (and see below for the new and improved granola recipe)!

Okay, Tina...what makes regular white sugar bad for us?

I could talk for DAYS about how too much sugar is bad for our health. First of all, it's not just white sugar that's harmful. Sugar comes with many names and faces: brown sugar, powdered sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and turbinado, to name a few. Then there are simple carbohydrates that convert quickly into sugar in the body, which is equally as harmful. These are all of your white, refined "quickie carbs": white pasta, white rice, white bread, cookies, pastries, cake, etc.

Sugar is extracted from either cane or beets and is subsequently stripped of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Because it has been stripped, it requires extra effort from the body to digest; the body must deplete its own store of minerals and enzymes to absorb the sucrose properly, which greatly upsets the body's mineral balance. So instead of providing the body with nutrition (which is what the food we eat should do), it creates a deficiency. Excess sugar consumption can suppress the immune system, produce an acidic stomach, and cause hyperactivity, anxiety, concentration difficulties, and heart disease (by raising insulin levels). Sugar enters swiftly into the bloodstream and wreaks havoc on the blood sugar level; first pushing it sky high, causing a surge of insulin to remove the sugar which then drops it extremely low. Major health organizations, including the American Diabetic Association, agree that sugar consumption in America is one of the three major causes of degenerative disease.

Refined sugar is also not naturally occurring in nature. It is man made, processed, refined; not how nature intended. Sugar that is naturally occurring in foods such as whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and proteins. When we eat these naturally sweet foods, the carbohydrates break down uniformly and enter the bloodstream smoothly and evenly, allowing the body to absorb all the good stuff.

Lastly, keep in mind that sugar is truly addictive. We can hop on the "moderation train" and say a little bit is ok, but it is really hard to have just a "little bit". Even a small amount of sugary sweets can leave us wanting more.

You shared a really interesting fact at your workshop--something about how many pounds of sugar we consume on average per year?

Yes, the average American consumes at least100lbs of sugar per year, which comes out to 30 teaspoons a day. The USDA recommends we get no more than 10 teaspoons per day (which is still too much), so we are consuming three times the recommended daily allowance. Believe it or not, 100lbs is a low estimate. More research is coming out claiming we are up to 150lbs per person per year, which would be about 550 calories a day! Scary.


What are some good sugar substitutes that might not have the same effects as refined, processed sugar?

There are a few healthy alternatives or natural sweeteners that we can use instead. However, just because they are natural does not mean that we should go pig out. The real goal should be to eat a balanced, healthy, whole food diet. When we eat well and include naturally sweet whole foods (e.g. sweet potatoes), we can overcome our desire for harmful sweets, or at least get a better handle on it.

However, I still like cookies and desserts every now and then, but I like waking up the next morning without a sugar hangover (yes, that is a real thing). Natural sweeteners make that possible. My two staples are local organic honey and grade B maple syrup. Keep in mind a little goes a long way. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, all you need is 1/2 cup of honey or maple syrup. Some other alternatives include barley malt syrup and brown rice syrup. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you would need 1 and 1/4 cups of barley malt syrup or 1 and 1/3 cups of brown rice syrup. Date sugar is another good alternative; 2/3 cup date sugar equals 1 cup regular sugar.

I used to have cereal and orange juice for breakfast but stopped after realizing it didn't "stick with me". Can you explain what a typical cereal/OJ breakfast looks like in terms of sugar and what we can do to start the day off right?

Lets pretend you like to start your day with a bowl of Kashi Go Lean Crunch with skim milk and a glass of orange juice. Sounds great, right? You get whole grains, calcium in your milk, and a serving of fruit in your orange juice. Not so fast...

Per 1 cup of Go Lean Crunch there is 12 grams, or 3 tsp of sugar*. But let's be serious, who only eats 1 cup? We are at least pouring 1.5 if not 2 cups into our bowl. So let's make that 4.5 teaspoons of sugar. Pour on 1 cup of organic skim milk, and you've just added another 3 teaspoons of sugar. So now were are at 7.5 grams. Guzzle down an 8 ounce glass of orange juice and you've got yourself another 22 grams or 5.5 teaspoons of sugar. The total for our morning? 13 grams of sugar. We've already exceeded our daily limit in the first meal of the day.

Granola, often touted as a healthy cereal, is typically very high in sugar. Heartland brand's original granola has 13 grams per HALF CUP serving**. So if we eat a 1.5 cups like we did the Go Lean Crunch, we would consume 32.5 grams of sugar! And that is without milk or yogurt. Now that's just plain wrong, if you ask me.

So the moral of the story? Make your own food; especially breakfast food and especially granola. Do not rely on food manufacturers to get you off to a good start in the morning. Rely on yourself. This way you control the amount of sweetness and the type of sweetener used. And it just so happens Caitlin has an amazing, healthy granola recipe for you! She's done over half the work for you. Thanks Caitlin!

Kicking the sugar habit can be overwhelming and just plain hard. This is coming from a girl with a hefty sweet tooth and an equally hefty sensitivity to sweets (meaning I wake up with a sugar hangover if I indulge in the hard stuff). The good news is, if I can overcome it, so can you! There is a way to enjoy sweet foods as a part of an overall healthy, whole-foods diet and feel amazing!


Crazy, right? Who knew we were consuming that much sugar! Thanks for such an awesome interview, Tina!

I do have to put in a little Le Man and Wife disclaimer: while we are getting much better at watching our sugar and making better meal choices, for better or for worse you are going to continue to see some cookies and cakes come out of this blog (like on Tuesday--more info coming soon). We just can't help ourselves sometimes, especially around the holidays. That doesn't mean that we need to eat cookies and cakes constantly, though! We just can't promise you that those sweets will be out of our lives forever (I know that Tina would say the same--she loves ice cream). :)

Thanks a million to Tina! Make sure to send her some love and go check out her site!


Naturally-Sweetened Homemade Granola

4 cups oats
2 cups nuts (we use 1/4 cup each: sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, pecans)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/8 cup honey + 1/4 cup at the end
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3/4 cup unsweetened dried fruit (we use 1/4 cup each: dried cranberries, raisins, golden raisins)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together oats, nuts, coconut, sesame seeds, and salt in your largest bowl. In a small saucepan, heat vegetable oil, butter, maple syrup, 1/8 cup honey, cinnamon, vanilla, and cardamom over medium-low until butter is melted. Pour over the oat mixture and mix until everything is coated. Dump out onto a large, rimmed baking sheet and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, stirring after about 8 minutes for an even bake.

Take granola out of the oven and pour back into your large bowl. Add dried fruit and 1/4 cup honey; mix well. Let cool completely and then store in air-tight containers. Won't last long, it's too good! :)

Serve with plain greek yogurt and some fresh berries on top.


(Tina's quick tips on yogurt:

Although yogurt is an outstanding source of protein, calcium, potassium, vitamins, and folic acid, not all yogurts are created equal. Here are the key things to look for when purchasing yogurt:

  • Read the labels carefully and be sure to choose "live" yogurt that does not contain added sugars, preservatives or thickeners.
  • Make sure the label includes the phrase "active yogurt cultures, living yogurt cultures, or contains active cultures"
  • Choose organic when possible.
  • Plain low-fat yogurt is the healthiest and most digestible form. You can flavor the yogurt yourself by adding maple syrup, applesauce with a dash of cinnamon, honey, and of course, granola!)

*info via: http://www.kashi.com/products/golean_crunch
**info via: http://heartlandbrands.com/page/products/nutritional-information/heartland-original