This Chocolate Cherry Almond Granola is gluten-free, vegetarian, and potentially vegan depending on what type of chocolate you use.
You could call this granola a lot of things:
An indulgent breakfast.
A healthy treat.
A deconstructed cookie.
I call in yum-in-a-bowl-with-benefits.
Sometimes I put it in a paper coffee sack, tie on a ribbon, and call it a homemade gift.
When it comes to breakfast, I like to be a rebel and break the rules. Who says we can’t have chocolate in our granola? Not me.
The first time I had chocolate granola, I was a 17-year-old exchange student in Berlin. My mother told me before I flew across the pond that four months in Europe would, “broaden my horizons.” She was right. The chocolate-covered lebkuchen I consumed there broadened other parts of me too, but of the many ways in which that experience planted seeds of change in my mind, diet is the one that has come full circle for me, 23 years later.
The year was 1994, and we were in the middle of the fat-free craze. Every box that could, cried out top-selling phrases like, low fat!, fat-free!, or only X grams of fat per serving! It was also a time when food labels got longer, as ingredients became less natural, and more heavily processed. A new fat-free product seemed to pop up every week. Snackwell’s filled half an aisle with their fat-free cookies for us to wash down with our skim milk. Traditional foods made almost entirely of fat showed up in fat-free versions: cream cheese, ice cream, mayonnaise, and butter substitutes. Eggs and bacon were the devil.
We ate a LOT of carbs: pasta, bread, cereal, bagels, baked potatoes. These were the “safe” foods. They filled the base of the food pyramid, and they were naturally fat-free.
Then came Germany. I moved in with a host family in Berlin as part of a university program for language and business immersion. They were wonderful, kind, smart, and healthy people. And they ate FAT.
It pretty much blew my fat-free mind that they, as well as what seemed like most of Berlin, were not only lean and healthy, but also enthusiastic consumers of FULL-FAT products.
For breakfast one morning, my host mom set out muesli (a loose, raw version of granola) bejeweled with hefty chunks of dark chocolate, and whole milk.
CHOCOLATE muesli and WHOLE milk for BREAKFAST!? I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“How do you stay so skinny?” I asked my host mother while holding the box of milk and pointing to the word Vollmilch on the box.
She shrugged. “In the U.S. you pay more for fat-free. We pay more for full fat. It’s better for you.”
I was blown away, and confused, but I continued to notice this theme with Berliners: thin people eating fat. It was one of the topics I spent many international calling minutes on with my mother.
“Mom, can you believe?! Whole milk!”
She couldn’t believe it either. It blew our minds.
My how times change.
My refrigerator hasn’t seen a tub of fat-free anything in years, but somehow, my cholesterol has gone down. I am much more leary of a plate of pasta than I am a whole egg. And I eat chocolate in good conscience– the darker the better. It’s one of the few sweets, aside from fruit, I still indulge in.
As I learn to feed myself and my thyroid, and come to understand more about my specific triggers, my diet will continue to change. Eliminating foods like grains and sugar are common practice among those trying to heal themselves through food. And truth be told, I don’t really eat grains if I can help it these days. Sometimes I can’t help it : )
This granola is a treat, albeit a gluten and dairy-free one. But one thing I learned from Germany that stuck with me, is an emphasis on whole, homemade food, made from ingredients we can not only pronounce, but recognize as foodstuff.
My favorite accoutrement for this granola is dairy-free coconut milk (the kind from the carton, not the can). And it’s as good for an afternoon snack as it is for breakfast. Let’s look at the hypothyroid-specific nutritional highlights, shall we?
- Chocolate is usually high in sugar and can contain soy lecithin, which some people with an underactive thyroid choose to avoid; however, dark chocolate, when consumed in moderation, can be a good source of trace minerals like copper and manganese. Chocolate, esp. dark, also containsflavonols, a type of antioxidant that can reduce the cell damage caused by heart disease, and help to lower blood pressure, and promote vascular function.
- Oats, as long as they are processed on equipment that does not process other gluten-containing grains, are naturally gluten-free. Removing gluten from your diet is step 1 in terms of adopting a thyroid-friendly diet.
- Coconut oil has been touted for its potential benefits to thyroid health, as well as anti-inflammatory properties, and even weight loss. It is high in healthy fats, lauric acid, and medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs).
- Cherries, especially tart cherries, are ranked as one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory foods you can eat. They are also a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C.
- Sea salt is a natural source of iodine as well as numerous other bioavailable trace minerals.
Here’s wishing you a happy holiday season filled with good health and a few wisely-chosen treats : )