No Sugar Added, Healthy Granola: is it Nirvana? How about Ambrosia.

Being conscious comes with a cost, doesn’t it?  In the process of becoming more enlightened, one becomes more aware of the downsides, the pitfalls enmeshed within the various parts of our world.  When it comes to food, many of us take the ignorance-is-bliss route, because knowing what’s behind the curtain is often too much information.  And so it is with cereal:  first we must face the nutrition facts.  Then there’s the cereal’s ingredients.  And then, most challenging of all, is where those ingredients come from.  In my last post, on the search for a healthy granola, ideally one with no sugar added, I shared some findings that are exposed in the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Cereal Scorecard, some of which were quite unpleasant.

We don’t ever like to think of things that we’re eating as receiving a poor rating, in any context, yet that becomes a reality for anyone who reads this report.  When cereal makers including General Mills and Bear Naked receive a 10 out of 700 total points, or just one out of five possible grains, it gets your attention.  Cornucopia targets products for review that claim to be organic, or, more suspiciously, ‘Natural.’  Bear Naked may be using just a handful or so of ingredients, but the chances that the grains used in their granola come from pesticide-sprayed farms appear to be pretty high.

A Healthy Granola?  Yes.  Environmentally Sound?  Definitely.

Grecian Grove granola, photo from

But let’s move on to some good news, already.  The other day I spoke on the phone with Hariclia Makoulis, the woman who created and runs Ambrosial Granola, which offers three different varieties:  Athenian Harvest Muesli, Grecian Grove Granola, and Venetian Vineyard Granola.  Ambrosial is a small, Brooklyn-based company that is 100% organic, which you can feel quite confident about, since they received a on the Organic Scorecard, meaning not only are their products full organic, they also show a full commitment to the importance of organics as a company.

So when you consider the ingredients used in, say, their  Grecian Grove – organic oats, organic honey, organic raisins, organic coconut, organic brown rice syrup, organic molasses, organic apricots, organic pumpkin seeds, organic sunflower seeds, organic crisp brown rice (brown rice, brown rice syrup), organic oat bran, organic sesame seeds, organic cranberries (cranberries, cane juice), organic  flax seeds, organic vanilla extract, organic orange oil, and sea salt – you couldn’t feel more secure in knowing that they all come from a good place.

My only issue is that the honey, alas, is not raw, but processed, which essentially means that the vitamins and minerals are lost in the processing, and that it comes with a higher glycemic index than raw honey (it also makes it difficult to refer to as having no sugar added).  Hariclia explained that it simply isn’t cost effective to buy raw honey in the large enough quantities they need (and over the course not only of a year, but years, one can imagine how that adds up).  When I asked if she had spoken with any bee farmers about whether or not they might sell their honey, however, she agreed that this could be a useful thing to look into, which was very heartening.

Though honey has become not only well-established, but even dominant as a sweetener used in various granolas, there’s no reason that additional unrefined sugar sweeteners, such as lo han or stevia, couldn’t be tested as possible replacements for honey, since going raw may not be realistic.  If ingredients such as organic brown rice syrup and organic molasses are being used, maybe they would mask the potentially bitter aftertaste of something like stevia, or perhaps lo han, leading to a still super-high quality cereal, but with even less sugar.  It’s at least worth consideration.  After receiving a brilliant 700, there may still be room left for even more improvement within this highly admirable company, and I can’t imagine a more fitting leader to take up the challenge of making an even more healthy granola than Ms. Makoulis.

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