One of my food pet peeves for quite some time now has been how much sugar is added to most cereals—not only the “junk” cereals found in conventional grocery stores, but also the so-called-healthy ones. In fact, it is almost impossible to find any cereal with fewer than 6-8 grams of sugar per ¾ cup serving (except for Cheerios, shredded wheat and puffed rice). Granola is one of the worst offenders. Often the serving size is misleadingly small. One “healthy organic gluten free” granola I bought recently for Larry has 6 grams of sugar per serving—and the serving size is 1/3 cup! Do you know how little that is? I just measured it out and a baby would probably ask for more! And I have mentioned this before, sugar can be disguised as other names—brown rice syrup, sucanat, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice etc.
(For a complete list of sugar disguises, go here ). Sugar is sugar is sugar, as both Rebecca and I have discussed. And then there are raisins and other dried fruits, which are added to many granolas, especially bulk (raisins are heavy and cheap, so many granolas are beefed up with raisins). 1 small box (about ¼ cup) of raisins has 25 grams of sugar in it!! Larry likes to have cold cereal in the morning and he doesn’t eat gluten. We buy all sorts of organic bulk granolas (with lots of dried fruit in them) and assorted gluten-free cereals. He adds puffed rice to cut some of the sugar, but he eats a lot of cereal every morning and so he is getting at least 30 grams of sugar before he even goes out the door at 6:15. And that is a lot for a so-called healthy breakfast.
So…this week I decided to make homemade muesli—without sugar or raisins—and homemade granola with tahini as the fat and a VERY small amount of maple syrup. (Granola needs fat and some sugar in order to be crunchy.)
Muesli, a popular European breakfast cereal, is made from raw oats, other grains (or flakes), nuts, and fruit. You can add yogurt, milk, or non-dairy milks to it in the morning, or soak it overnight to soften it. Many muesli products are available on the cereal shelves, but again, they contain a huge amount of sugar—both added (usually as fruit juice) or in the form of raisins, cranberries, dates, dried apricots, or other dried fruits. Muesli is easy to make, and by making it yourself, you can control how much sugar is in it. I made mine without any sugar or dried fruit, and in the morning, Larry and I can add a handful of low glycemic berries to give a little sweetness to our cereal (I add cinnamon, which contains no sugar and is naturally sweet). Here are some ideas for making homemade muesli:
4 cups raw oats (use gluten-free oats if you have a gluten allergy)
1 cup seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax), either raw or lightly toasted
1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc), either raw or lightly toasted
1/2 cup ground flax seed, oat bran, or wheat germ, optional (or a combination of them)
(Millet, buckwheat, quinoa or other grains, toasted or raw, optional)
1 cup unsweetened coconut (either plain or lightly toasted) (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional—can also use cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, or anise)
Mix together and store in an airtight container. Either soak overnight in milk or water or add milk or yogurt in the morning and let sit for 5-10 minutes.
Add fresh fruit, if desired.
You can basically add anything else you want…such as toasted buckwheat, other spices, etc. And of course, dried fruit…but bear in mind, your sugar content starts to skyrocket as you add more dried fruit.
Granola has basically the same ingredients as muesli, but fat is added and quite a bit of brown sugar, syrup or honey to make it crispy and clumpy. It’s also more of a fuss to make, because you have to cook it. I love tahini, which is high in fat but also good for you (lots of protein, minerals, and B vitamins). I figured that since I had to add fat, I might as well add fat that is super nutritious, so I decided to try to make granola with it instead of oil. I also only added 1 T of maple syrup instead of the traditional ¼- ½ cup. (Adding 1 T of syrup to my granola added about 1 gram of sugar per healthy serving of granola.) Adding less sugar will make your granola less crispy, so you can add one egg white (beaten until frothy) to crisp it even further.
Low-sugar, High Protein Tahini Granola
Muesli recipe (using whatever UNTOASTED nuts, grains , seeds, and flavorings you desire, see above)
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup tahini
1 T maple syrup
1 egg white, beaten till frothy
Mix together the wet ingredients and add to the muesli. Stir REALLY WELL so that the wet ingredients will coat all of the dry. Don’t worry about clumps. Spread in parchment-lined baking rimmed baking pans (2 of them) and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 300°F. Stir and switch pan placement in oven. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until granola has browned and is aromatic. Cool completely and store in air-tight containers.
Note: This granola has a delicious, nutty flavor and is great to snack on, too. If you are not a tahini lover, however, you can replace the tahini with almond butter or ½ cup of coconut oil, either virgin or unflavored. Also, I added 1 T of syrup because I wanted only 1 gram of sugar per serving. If you want to add more, try 2 or 3 T, remembering that each tablespoon you add contributes 12 grams of sugar to the recipe (or about 1 gram of sugar per serving).