When you’re eating for metabolic health, whole foods reign supreme. But that doesn’t mean all convenience foods are off-limits. This ongoing series highlights some of the most metabolically friendly packaged foods found in popular supermarkets.
Granola may seem like a nutritious option for breakfast or snack time, but a blend of the wrong ingredients will set you up for blood sugar spikes. Popular granola blends can pack up to 39 grams of carbohydrates and 13 grams of sugar. This is because they are often made with oats—which are often processed and can raise blood sugar by being digested quickly—and sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup, or other sugary ingredients like sweetened dried fruit. Even granolas that claim low sugar may be citing an unrealistically small “serving size.” So if you pour what many people would consider a “standard” serving into your bowl, you may take in more carbs and sugar than you would get from a few cookies.
Your best bet? Go with a low-sugar grain-free blend. Grain-free granola takes quick-digesting, carb-laden oats out of the equation, helping to keep your blood sugar levels in check. Moreover, with the right ingredients, granola can be a source of nutrients that support metabolic health. Making homemade granola is the best way to ensure its components are optimal, but if you don’t have time to do that, some excellent packaged options are available. And you don’t have to seek out a health-food store—supermarket chains and Amazon Prime stock grain-free granolas. We rounded up our five favorites with nutritional insights for each pick.
Granola tends to have a health halo effect and seem healthier than it is. To make our picks below, we considered:
Seek out granola with less than 5 grams of total sugar per ¼ cup serving and as little added sugars as possible. Check the ingredients list, too: Ideally, any sugar comes from natural sweeteners or unsweetened dried fruit rather than ingredients like honey, agave, or maple syrup. While these natural sugars are okay in moderation, they have minimal added benefits, whereas dried fruit lends a little fiber.
2. Added oils
Oil is typically necessary to keep the granola from being too dry. However, some oils are better than others. Refined seed oils, such as soybean oil and canola oil, are highly processed and contain a large amount of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid. Eating significantly more omega 6s than omega-3 fatty acids increases inflammation in the body and may heighten the risk of inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Rather than soybean or canola oil, choose granolas that contain minimally processed, non-seed oils such as coconut, avocado, or olive.
Grain-free usually features nuts and seeds rather than oats. These ingredients are sources of fiber and protein, both of which slow digestion and curb post-meal glucose. Fiber also increases the production of short-chain fatty acids in the gut. High levels of SCFAs are associated with improved insulin sensitivity.
Other common granola superfoods include coconut (another source of slow-digesting fats) and spices like cinnamon, which have positive effects on blood glucose and provide inflammation-fighting antioxidants.
4. Serving sizes
If a granola contains some sugar and the serving size is very small, that sugar can quickly add up and spike your blood glucose. Some brands consider one-quarter cup to be a serving, and research finds that we tend to portion out more granola than other breakfast cereals. Check the serving size on the label—and then use a measuring cup.
Although you should always check the ingredients lists and nutrition facts, some language on the front of a food package can hint at metabolically friendly options. When shopping for granola, ones labeled “paleo” or “keto” tend to contain the least carbs.
The Best Grain-Free Granolas
This granola delivers the delicious flavor of coconut with just nine whole or minimally processed ingredients, including cashews, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. Plus, the fiber, fat, and protein from the nuts and seeds will slow down digestion, so the honey and maple syrup don’t have as much impact on your blood glucose.
Per serving (¼ cup): 150 calories, 12 g fat (4 g sat), 8 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 4 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: from $24.99* for three nine-ounce packs
Honey and dried cranberries sweetened with apple juice add just enough sweetness to this granola. In addition to almonds, pecans, walnuts, pepitas, and sunflower seeds, there are flaxseeds. These tiny seeds provide heart-healthy alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Eating more of this essential omega-3 fatty acid may support insulin-secreting beta cells and improve muscles’ glucose uptake.
Per serving (¼ cup): 160 calories, 15 g fat (3.5 g sat), 7 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 4 g protein, 10 mg sodium
Price: $14.83 for a 10-ounce bag
Crafted with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, almonds, pecans, and butter, this granola is reminiscent of cinnamon pecan pie. It gets its sweetness from monk fruit (a zero-calorie natural sweetener), as well as the sugar alcohol erythritol. Unlike added sugars, these alternatives are unlikely to increase post-meal blood glucose. Plus, there are only two net carbs (the number of total carbs minus the fiber and sugar alcohols) per serving.
Per serving (⅓ cup): 190 calories, 18 g fat (5.7 g sat), 10 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 1 g sugar (4 g sugar alcohol), 5 g protein, 10 mg sodium. Nutrition facts may vary in other flavors.
Price: $11.99 for an 11-ounce bag
This blend of crunchy granola clusters is made with a low-glycemic starch derived from non-GMO corn that has a less extreme effect on blood sugar than simple carbohydrates like sugar and refined flour. Research backs the benefits of resistant starch for blood sugar control and metabolic health. The lightly sweetened vanilla blend contains just 3 grams of sugar per serving, and the protein, fiber, and fat from almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and MCT and coconut oils may help smooth out your blood sugar response.
Per serving (¼ cup): 130 calories, 8 g fat (3.5 g sat), 17 g carbs, 2g fiber, 3 g sugar, 3 g protein, 70 mg sodium
Price: $19.90 for two 8.5-ounce bags
At first glance, this granola may seem higher in sugar than the other options here. But the portion size is a half-cup rather than a quarter-cup. In addition to pecans, pumpkin seeds, and hemp seeds, the superfood ingredients include mulberries, matcha (green tea) powder, and milk thistle, all of which promote metabolic health and come together for a complex, herbal flavor profile. According to test tube and animal studies, tart-sweet mulberries may help lower blood sugar. Earthy matcha may promote insulin sensitivity. And milk thistle may improve glucose control, which is why it’s been studied as a way to manage diabetes.
Per serving (½ cup): 280 calories, 22 g fat (5 g sat), 16 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 8 g protein, 80 mg sodium
Price: $18 for 11.5-ounce bag
And one in bar form …
These small bars have no additives or added sugars and only 1–3 net grams of carbs depending on flavor, including Maple Pecan and Coconut Chocolate Chip. They’re sweetened with Stevia and Monk Fruit.
Per serving (one bar; maple pecan flavor): 150 calories, 14 g fat (1.5 g sat), 13 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 3 g protein, 55 mg sodium
Price: $22.99 for eight bars
* The prices in this article reflect those listed by the retailer at the time of publication. Prices and local store availability may vary.