Typically when I make granola, I use maple syrup or honey as the sweetener. You don't necessarily NEED a sweetener for taste, but it does help to keep the granola stuck together (and who doesn't love those big granola chunks and clusters?). In an effort to eat less sugar, I wanted to craft a granola that didn't use any sweetener. Please note: I have nothing against nutrient-rich real maple syrup and raw, unprocessed honey (preferably local on both accounts). This is a personal experiment I'm toying with specific to my own needs.
So, I was left searching for an alternate sweet, sticky matter.
"What about agave?" you might ask. (I get asked this a lot in my Fueled+Fit nutrition program.)
Some words on Agave Syrup
Agave syrup has been the health community's sweetheart sweetener for years due to the assumption that it's "natural" (since it comes from the agave plant) and the fact that it has a low glycemic index (meaning its consumption doesn't drastically spike blood sugar).
I have NEVER been a fan of agave. I won't touch the stuff, and won't eat any foods that contain it. Like, never. Why?
The reason agave has a low glycemic index is because its main sugar is fructose. Fructose isn't digested in the same fashion that glucose is. Fructose must first go to the liver to be metabolized. This is fine when the fructose comes in the context of a whole food: a banana contains 7 grams of fructose, for example. Totally okay. But, if a ton of refined fructose is dumped into the body, then the liver has to work overtime (one of the reasons high fructose corn syrup is "bad"). High consumption of fructose is associated with elevated triglyceride levels, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver and heart disease. Fructose is also more readily turned into body fat.
The kicker? Agave syrup contains more fructose than table sugar, or even high fructose corn syrup.
And it's very much NOT a natural product.
Traditionally made, agave nectar contains some health properties, but this is NOT what we're getting when we pick up a bottle at our local Trader Joe's or health food store. Agave syrup is a heavily refined and processed product. Unnaturally high in fructose, it puts greater demands on your liver leading to the health issues mentioned above.
Despite the allure of a low glycemic "healthy" sweetener, don't consume agave.
1. Skip the agave syrup as a sweetener. Use honey or maple syrup instead. If you're looking for a low glycemic sweetener, use coconut sugar.
2. Always read the ingredient list on packaged foods. If you see agave, skip it. This can be tricky, because agave makes its way into a lot of "health" foods. But if you don't eat high fructose corn syrup, you don't want to eat this either.
Back to my granola...
I wanted a sweetener that would give me sticky granola, without giving me fatty liver.
Yup, that's what I did. I used a ripe banana since they're the sweetest (see photo) and blended it with some melted coconut oil. Worked like a charm. It provides a hint of sweetness, and is sticky enough to hold the granola together. You kind of have to use a lot of maple syrup or honey to get the desired effect, which definitely drives the sugar content up, so this is is a nice alternative for those looking to curb their sugar intake.
Bananas aren't exactly low-sugar or low-carb; an average banana contains 27 grams of carbohydrate, 14 of which are sugar. But, when you divide that by 12, you have under 1 gram of sugar from the "sweetener" per serving. Not too shabby, and definitely less than honey or syrup. Please also note: the coconut and nuts do contain some natural sugars, as well.
Low-Sugar Grain-Free Granola
Makes 6 cups, roughly 12 servings
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips (the big pieces)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1 RIPE banana
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
OPTIONAL: 1 cup raisins, chopped dates, apple-sweetened dried cranberries or other dried fruit (this option would not be considered low sugar or low carb)
Preheat oven to 350.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients. Feel free to sub in any other nut or seed you fancy. Pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are all tasty options. Be sure to choose only raw/unroasted nuts and seeds.
In a blender, combine the ripe banana, melted coconut oil, cinnamon and sea salt. Blend until smooth.
Pour this over the nuts in the mixing bowl, Fold gently with a spatula until the sticky banana mixture has thoroughly coated everything.
Transfer to a parchment paper (I use this brand) lined baking sheet. Spread out in a thin, even layer. Transfer to oven and bake for 8 minutes, then remove sheet from oven. Using a spatula, gently toss the granola. You must be gentle about this process if you want to maintain large granola chunks. If you don't care about that, then toss with reckless abandon, you granola heathen.
Return baking sheet to oven and bake another 8 minutes. Keep your eye out, though. This stuff can burn on a dime. Cooking times may differ with each oven.
Remove from oven and let cool. If you're adding dried fruit, mix it in once cooled. Store in an air-tight glass container for a week or so. If storing longer than that, keep it in the freezer.