Healthy… or Not? Granola and Organic Cookies

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This week I conclude my series about foods that often appear to be healthy but that aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be.

Before I get started, though, I wanted to mention a series of books entitled Eat This, Not That! These books are coauthored by David Zinczenko, the editor-in-chief of Men’s Health magazine, and Matt Goulding, the food and nutrition editor of Men’s Health. They also publish a free e-newsletter that you can sign up for. You’ll learn a lot from them, believe me.


So, back to some deceptively healthy foods:

Granola seems to have been around for ages. This tasty cereal evokes images of good health, since it’s made with nutritious ingredients like oats, nuts, and dried fruit. The problem with most granolas, though, is that they are often loaded with fat and sugar, which, in turn, means that they’re high in calories. And in some cases, the type of fat is saturated fat. Even if the fat is a healthy unsaturated fat, though, granola may pack on the pounds if you overdo it. The other catch? Sugar. Now, the sugar may be in the form of honey or maple syrup, but then again, it might be regular table sugar or corn syrup. And sugar is sugar when it comes to calories and carbs. Here’s what’s in one half-cup of your typical granola:

300 calories
15 grams of fat
3 grams of saturated fat
32 grams of carbohydrate
12 grams of sugar
5 grams of fiber

There are some redeeming qualities to granola, such as the fiber and the healthy fat (if it’s there), but the calories, total fat, and carbohydrate are on the high side. And granola tends to taste so good that it’s easy to overdo the portion. You CAN find lower-fat granolas on the market. For example, Bear Naked makes a “Fit” Granola. Depending on the flavor, one half-cup of this granola contains:

240 calories
4–6 grams of fat
0 grams of saturated fat
44–46 grams of carbohydrate
6–8 grams of sugar
4–6 grams of fiber

If the carbohydrate is concerning, it might be best to limit your portion to one quarter of a cup and mix it with a lower-carbohydrate cereal, such as Fiber One. Or use granola as a topping for fat-free Greek yogurt. Making your own granola is also an option, and you have more control over the ingredients and how much you add.

Many of you likely know that Paul Newman founded a food company in 1982 and that 100% of proceeds are donated to charity. His daughter founded Newman’s Own Organics in 1993. Both of their efforts are to be commended, and I happen to be a fan of Paul Newman’s salad dressings! But my cautionary words have to do with one of the products, Newman-O’s. These are organic cookies that are a spin-off of Oreos. The fact that they’re cookies might lead some to say, “Who cares? They’re cookies! They’re not supposed to be good for you!”

Well, that’s beside the point. My concern has to do with the marketing around them. These cookies are made with organic ingredients (organic sugar, organic cocoa, organic palm fruit oil, and so forth), which is commendable. But an organic food isn’t necessarily any better for you. Organic shouldn’t necessarily translate into “eat more.” Here’s what’s in a serving of two Original Newman-Os:

130 calories
5 grams of fat
1.5 grams of saturated fat
20 grams of carbohydrate
12 grams of sugar

For comparison purposes, here’s what’s in two Oreos:

107 calories
5 grams of fat
1 gram of saturated fat
17 grams of carbohydrate
9 grams of sugar

Both cookies contain palm oil (palm fruit oil, in the case of Newman-Os), which hasn’t exactly been proven to be a healthy oil at this point. Oreos do contain high-fructose corn syrup, while Newman-O’s have organic sugar and powdered sugar. The bottom line? If you enjoy a chocolate sandwich cookie now and then (and are a fan of Paul Newman!), go ahead and enjoy the Newman-O’s. Eating cookies is one of those treats in life and isn’t a problem as long as you don’t overdo it! You can always count those carbs. But as I always say, just be sure to read that label and know what you’re eating!

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