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Granola: One of the oldest health food and still very popular

Granula was invented in Dansville, New York, by Dr. James Caleb Jackson at the Jackson Sanitarium in 1863. The Jackson Sanitarium was a prominent health spa that operated into the early 20th century on the hillside overlooking Dansville. It was also known as Our Home on the Hillside; thus the company formed to sell Jackson’s cereal was known as the Our Home Granula Company. Granula was composed of Graham flour and was similar to an oversized form of Grape-Nuts.

The names Granula and Granola were registered trademarks in the late 19th century United States for foods consisting of whole grain products crumbled and then baked until crisp; in contrast with the sort of contemporary (about 1900) invention, muesli, which is traditionally not baked or sweetened. The name is now a trademark only in Australia and New Zealand, but is commonly referred to as muesli. The trademark is owned by the Australian Health & Nutrition Association Ltd.’s Sanitarium Health Food Company in Australia and Australasian Conference Association Limited in New Zealand.

Granola is a breakfast food and snack food, popular around the world, consisting of rolled oats, nuts, honey, and sometimes puffed rice, that is usually baked until crisp. During the baking process the mixture is stirred to maintain a loose, breakfast cereal-type consistency. Dried fruits, such as raisins and dates, are sometimes added.

Besides serving as food for breakfast and/or snacks, granola is also often eaten by those who are hiking, camping, or backpacking because it is lightweight, high in calories, and easy to store; these properties make it similar to trail mix and muesli. It is often combined into a bar form. Granola is often eaten in combination with yogurt, honey, fruit (such as bananas, strawberries, and/or blueberries), milk, and/or other forms of cereal. It can also serve as a topping for various types of pastries and/or desserts. Granola, particularly recipes that include flax seeds, is often used to improve digestion.

In 1951, Willie Pelzer moved from Germany to Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, to work the sugar beet fields. After noticing the lack of variety rolled oats was used for in food, he began experimenting to find a better and more appetizing way of enjoying rolled oats. Ultimately, Pelzer came up with granola and in the 1970s started his own family-owned business by the name of Sunny Crunch Foods Ltd. Working as the CEO and President, Pelzer’s company specialized in granola cereals, granola and protein bars, fibre products, meal replacement products, and health food items. Sunny Crunch Foods Ltd. grew to have worldwide distribution and became one of Canada’s most respected health foods manufacturer. Pelzer is now known as the founder of “crunch granola.”

A similar cereal was developed by John Harvey Kellogg. It too was initially known as Granula, but the name was changed to Granola to avoid legal problems with Jackson.

The food and name were revived in the 1960s, and fruits and nuts were added to it to make it a health food that was popular with the hippie movement. At the time, several people claim to have revived or re-invented granola. A major promoter was Layton Gentry, profiled in Time as “Johnny Granola-Seed”. In 1964, Gentry sold the rights to a granola recipe using oats, which he claimed to have invented himself, to Sovex Natural Foods for $3,000. The company was founded in 1953 in Holly, Michigan by the Hurlinger family with the main purpose of producing a concentrated paste of brewers yeast and soy sauce known as “Sovex”. Earlier in 1964, it had been bought by John Goodbrad and moved to Collegedale, Tennessee. In 1967, Gentry bought back the rights for west of the Rockies for $1,500 and then sold the west coast rights to Wayne Schlotthauer of Lassen Foods in Chico, California, for $18,000. Lassen was founded from a health food bakery run by Schlotthauer’s father-in-law. The Hurlingers, Goodbrads, and Schlotthauers were all Adventists, and it is possible that Gentry was a lapsed Adventist who was familiar with the earlier granola.

In 1972, an executive at Pet Milk (later Pet Incorporated) of St. Louis, Missouri, introduced Heartland Natural Cereal, the first major commercial granola. At almost the same time, Quaker introduced Quaker 100% Natural Granola. Within a year, Kellogg’s had introduced its “Country Morning” granola cereal and General Mills had introduced its “Nature Valley”.

In 1974, McKee Baking (later McKee Foods), makers of Little Debbie snack cakes, purchased Sovex. In 1998, the company also acquired the Heartland brand and moved its manufacturing to Collegedale. In 2004, Sovex’s name was changed to “Blue Planet Foods”.

“Granola bars” have become popular as a snack, similar to the traditional flapjack (oat bar) or muesli bar familiar in the Commonwealth countries. Granola bars consist of granola pressed and baked into a bar shape, resulting in the production of a more convenient snack. The product is most popular in the United States and Canada, parts of southern Europe, Brazil, Israel, South Africa and Japan. Recently, granola has begun to expand its market into India and other southeast Asian countries.

Nutritional Value of Granola

The long list of health benefits commonly attributed to granola is mainly due to its content of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients, including, but not limited to, dietary fibers, sodium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, vitamin-E, vitamin-C, niacin, vitamin E, iron, and thiamin.

Health Benefits of Granola


As a digestive aid, granola is almost unmatched. It is commonly consumed by people who want a boost in their fiber content, because granola contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. Dietary fiber is a beneficial part of anyone’s eating habits because it regulates digestion of food. It adds bulk and weight to bowel movements, making them more solid and easier to pass along the digestive tract. It also stimulates peristaltic motion, which is when the smooth muscles in the intestinal system contract, thereby moving food further along, while also causing the release of gastric and digestive juices, relieving stress on the entire system. Soluble fiber is good for alleviating symptoms of constipation, which can lead to a bevy of health issues, including colorectal cancer, indigestion, heartburn, and excess flatulence. The insoluble fiber can harden up loose stools and reduce the occurrence of diarrhea. Furthermore, fiber can improve heart health by literally scraping the arteries clean of dangerous LDL cholesterol or omega-6 fatty acids that can lead to heart conditions like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.

Weight Loss:

One of the best parts of eating granola is that it is a lightweight, yet filling, food that delivers a seriously healthy boost to your body in a number of ways. It is very low in cholesterol and sodium, both of which are culprits behind chronic obesity. Also, the fiber in granola makes the body feel full, because it bulks up food and absorbs water. Therefore, it reduces appetite and inhibits the release of ghrelin, which is the hormone that makes the body feel hungry. This can help to prevent overeating, which is common for obese people, as well as those on diets which leave them hungry at unusual times of the day.

Reduce Cholesterol:

The soluble fiber in granola is a known way to reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and promote the spread of healthy cholesterol (yes, it does exist!) throughout the body. By reducing harmful cholesterol in the bloodstream, you prevent the development of plaque in your arteries and veins. This sort of plaque can result in increased blood pressure and strain on the cardiovascular system. Be sure to buy granola that is not supplemented with hydrogenated oils, however, as they can increase the levels of negative cholesterol and reduce positive cholesterol, thereby negating the effects of the dietary fiber in granola. Many preparations of granola include nuts like almonds and walnuts, which are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids (also known as good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol).

Boost Energy:

The other reason that many outdoor hikers and campers take granola on their trip is that it is a concentrated form of energy, and will help give you that extra boost when you need it most. It doesn’t fill your body with sugars, which will eventually cause you to crash and feel sluggish, and instead, it gives you manganese, which is one of the least talked about but most integral minerals in the body. It is important for the liver, kidneys, and metabolic activity. It stimulates the tissues, and the proper distribution of resources throughout the body. Proper metabolic function means that your body is working efficiently, and your energy needs can be accounted for.

Cancer Prevention:

Granola contains low levels of vitamin-C, which is a natural antioxidant that generally boosts the immune system, stimulates the white blood cells, and can prevent cancer from forming or metastasizing. However, the real connection that researchers are focusing on now is the importance of manganese in the prevention of cancer. The high manganese content of granola is shown to have major antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are beneficial compounds that seek out free radicals, the by-products of cellular metabolism that can mutate healthy cells into cancerous ones by changing the DNA structure. By eliminating free radicals with antioxidants like manganese, you can reduce the chances of getting cancer, heart disease, and many other dangerous conditions.

Prevention of Anemia:

Anemia is a serious condition that affects millions of people all around the world, but many of them don’t realize they are suffering. Basically, it is a deficiency of iron in the blood, which is an essential part of building red blood cells. Anemia can result in excess fatigue, headaches, cognitive malfunctions, depression, and intestinal disorders. Granola has a significant amount of iron, so it counteracts many of the symptoms of anemia. Some ready-made granola is even further enriched with iron supplementation, versus granola that
is made at home.

Cognitive Activity:

People often say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that it keeps your brain working throughout the day. That is especially true if you add granola to that, since it reduces blood pressure in the body. By being high in potassium and low in sodium, granola helps with hypertension by acting as a vasodilator. When blood pressure is lowered, the veins are loosened, stress on the system is reduced, and increased blood and oxygen flow can occur. Increased oxygen flow and blood to the brain can boost cognitive function and increase the speed of nervous response and the formation of neural pathways. This is the same reason that bananas are often called “brain food”, because their potassium levels stimulate high mental functioning.

Granola’s effect on reducing blood pressure obviously helps heart health as well, by relieving the strain on the cardiovascular system, and also lowering the chances of atherosclerosis, strokes, and other potentially deadly conditions. You should supplement the potassium content of granola with fresh fruit, a delicious and common combination for breakfast or on the go for a snack.

Vitamin-E content:

Granola is a good source of vitamin-E, also known as alpha tocopherol, and a single serving can provide you with almost 20% of your daily requirement! Vitamin-E affects a number of bodily processes, including the protection of skin from premature aging and wrinkles, strengthens capillary walls and improves heart health, increases blood flow to extremities so hair follicles and nails retain their integrity, and also helps to protect your skin from sunburn. If you do get sunburn, it can help reduce the associated pain and redness! Overall, the large amount of vitamin-E in granola alone makes it a great choice for a breakfast booster!

Manganese Content:

The manganese content of granola is astonishingly high, and the effects that it can have on the body are quite impressive. In terms of diabetes management, manganese is a regulator for blood sugar in the body, and can stimulate or inhibit the release of insulin. By regulating the blood sugar levels, it can reduce the chances of spikes and drops that can make life so difficult for diabetic patients.

Besides its effects on diabetes, manganese also is a co-factor in the production of energy from food. It also plays a major role in the production of blood-clotting factors to increase the speed of wound healing, sex hormone production and regulation, as well as the production of new tissues to speed up cellular and organ repair.

Warning about Granola:

That may have been an impressive list of health benefits, but granola can have some harmful effects on the body, and there is some controversy about eating too much of this powerful food. Granola is basically carbohydrates cooked in fat, which can produce some chemical molecules that the body cannot digest. However, different preparations of granola can result in many different chemical compositions. Also, the puffed rice which commonly is included in granola has little nutritional value but does act as a filler and a source of empty calories. Look for varieties that have no puffed rice, and you can avoid that negative side effect. Inulin is a common polysaccharide that is made of indigestible fructans, and it can take the body time and energy to digest it properly. This may result in some bloating or flatulence initially, followed by a marked improvement in digestion.

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