Not-Too-Sweet Granola + Processed Sugar and Eating Mindfully

Granola and I go way back. Our love affair began around 2014, when I was introduced to the concept of the granola bar. I’d chuck Nature Valley Fruit & Nut bars into every bag I owned, making sure I constantly had one on hand as a “just-in-case” snack. I probably ate one a day. Sometimes even two. What I didn’t realize at the time was that these bars were really just a whole lot of sugar poured over oats and more sugar.

When you peel back the label cleverly hiding the nutrition facts on a standard-issue granola bar, you’re greeted by added sugar after added sugar. Corn syrup. Added fructose. Barley malt extract. All things that the food industry uses to make you want their products more. The waistline inflation is just an unfortunate side effect of their crafty marketing.

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With the help of my hurried-Chinese-takeout-for-dinner habit, my hurried-granola-bars-for-snacks habit caused my weight to skyrocket – and my body image to plummet – within a matter of months. It was only after the damage was done that I realized what I was putting in my mouth was actually hurting my body and my mind.

It took me a long time to take down the sweet tooth I’d built up over months of processed-granola-bar-binging. Things that had previously tasted sweet enough, like fruit and a drizzle of honey, suddenly seemed lacking. My taste buds had been reengineered to crave that punch of artificial, syrupy sweetness, and they were NOT HAPPY when I decided to cut it out.

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Another important part of this story is that, at the same time, I’d been drinking about 40 ounces of soda a day. Sugar was just a part of my daily routine. I consumed mass amounts of it without even thinking twice. Once I started reading more about real food and cooking, I took a good hard look at my own habits, as well as the habits of others around me.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that, while certainly detrimental, my sweet tooth was actually rather tame in comparison to a lot of my friends’. Eating sugar, drinking sugar, thinking and talking about sugar, celebrating with sugar, conceding to our failures, emotions and regrets by diving into a big pile of sugar… These were all things that we just did. Because, at its core, sugar is biologically rewarding.

granola-tray

Back in the day, when we were all walking around with our knuckles on the ground (anthropologists pls confirm), it occurred to us that sweeter fruits contained more nutrients, and therefore could supply us with more energy. We seek out sweet things because, while our brains were still hard-wired to see sugar as a sign of nutrient density, the food system was evolving to make food as appealing and cheap as industrially possible.

Before I go on, I’d like to set the record straight on one thing: I do not think sugar as a food substance is evil or bad or something to be demonized. I also do not think you shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy your favorite desserts, or that you should feel ashamed if you slip up and drink a Coke out of 3 p.m. desperation.

I do, however, think that we should all take a moment to turn inward and confront the habits that aren’t nourishing our bodies and our minds. I also think that we need to examine the ways in which we interact with sugar to make sure we aren’t using it as a crutch. After cutting daily processed sugar out of my diet, I realized that my unhealthy habits were actually a sign of deeper problems with my mental health. Filling my plate with healthy, fueling foods allowed me to give all my energy to improving my mindset; improving my mindset made it easier to choose healthful options nine times out of ten. And it really made it easier to keep those glorified candy bars masquerading as health food OUT of my grocery cart.

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Perhaps my favorite part of eating mindfully, though, is the discovery process. Chances are, if there’s a food you eat on a regular basis that isn’t the healthiest option, there’s a healthier choice waiting just around the corner. You just have to find it first. It does take a little bit of digging, since the market is really saturated with sugary-salty-fatty products instead of their more balanced counterparts. My solution? Make the dang thing yourself. It saves you money and it usually tastes better, as is the case with this granola.

I’ve probably posted about this granola on my Instagram about six times already. I can’t help it, though – it REALLY IS the best granola I’ve ever made. I make a batch of it once a week, and we demolish it all the way to the crunchy, oaty shake left at the bottom of the jar. Half a cup of maple syrup seems like a lot when you’ve got it in the measuring cup, but it really isn’t once you mix it with all those oats and nuts and seeds. It just gives this granola a little kiss of sweetness that hangs out so nicely with some yogurt, fresh fruit, and a little honey drizz.

The moral of the story here? Sugar isn’t the enemy. Sugar is fine, it’s sweet, it’s delicious, and sometimes it’s just what your taste buds want. But be sure that you’re eating it mindfully. Think twice before you tear open that wrapper. Eating the things that are good for your body just so happen to be good for your mind and soul as well.

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Not-Too-Sweet Granola

Prep Time: 5 minutes   |   Cook Time: 30 minutes   |   Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups raw, unsalted nuts and/or seeds
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp natural nut butter
  • 2 egg whites
  • Optional: raisins or other dried fruit, like cherries or chopped apricots

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325º F and line a large rimmed baking tray with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together oats, nuts and seeds, chia seeds, cinnamon, turmeric, and salt. Add in maple syrup, olive oil, nut butter, and egg whites. Stir together to coat completely.

Turn granola out onto baking tray, using a rubber spatula to spread into an even layer. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway, or until granola is golden brown and toasty. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before breaking into clumps and stirring in dried fruit.

Granola will stay fresh in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks, but don’t worry, it won’t last that long.

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