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I’m prone to irrational irritability. Or hadn’t you noticed? Yes, well. I admitted it. One of the recent targets of my ire is the American breakfast cereal industry. In the last few years, cereal has started making me sick. Literally.

It’s the sugar. There’s so much of it in nearly every breakfast cereal that it’s a health threat (and not just for me.) This is particularly important for those with mood lability because the spikes and crashes of blood sugar can exacerbate or trigger mood swings. Sugary breakfast cereal makes me feel rotten both physically and mentally, and I’m hungry again in no time flat because it lacks nutrition. It puts me on the blood sugar rollercoaster and sets me up for a lousy day. Every single time I eat that garbage, I regret it. After 30 years, I’ve finally given up on the “sugar junk” – my Mom’s all-too-accurate nickname for most over-sweetened commercial products.

Petit Dejeuner: a typical French breakfast has one teaspoon of refined sugar in the form of fruit preserves.

When I was growing up, we ate corn flakes that had no frosting, and they were thick enough to stand up to milk. I loved them. I can no longer get a cornflake that measures up to those humble standards without paying $8 for a bag of fancypants Nature’s Path Organic Fruit Juice Sweetened Cornflakes, which have just 3 ingredients: corn, fruit juice, and salt. You do need a little sweetener and salt or else they taste like cardboard.

When I was a kid, we also added sugar (or better yet, real honey!) to our cereal ourselves, so we were Mom was in control of the sugar content. One teaspoon of white sugar or honey was all that was permitted: one teaspoon of white sugar contains 16 calories and 4.2g sugar; one teaspoon of honey contains 21 calories and 5.7g sugar. That’s much less than you’ll find in many cereals. In fact, the only American mass-market cereals that I tolerate well are Post Grape Nuts (or copycats) and Post Shredded Wheat, which include no more than 1g fat and 5g sugar, with up to 6g of protein per serving. Most breakfast cereals and granolas have over 10g sugar per serving (2 – 3 teaspoons.)

While these options are acceptable, they are the plainest, dullest cereals in the world. I’ve recently hit on a much better* solution: homemade unsweetened granola. There are simple, quick, easy to prepare recipes in the old standby cookbooks like Joy of Cooking. I am in complete control of what goes into the granola – a necessary bit of oil, rolled oats, nuts and seeds, and (unsweetened) dried fruits. Even cacao nibs!

The result? A truly nutritious breakfast food that’s utterly delicious because it contains things that I really like to eat, doesn’t make me feel ill, and my husband loves it too. Paired with plain, unsweetened yogurt it’s a cereal killer. I’m never going back.

* Better is relative! Homemade unsweetened granola is better for my nutritional needs; your mileage may vary. The fat content is higher due to oil, nuts, and seeds, but these are healthier fats than those in most processed foods. The protein and fiber content is also higher, and there’s no artificial crap. It keeps in the fridge for up to a month, but it never lasts that long around here. My first two batches lasted approximately three weeks with just two adults in the house!

Version 1: dried apricots, currants, dried cherries, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, cacao nibs, wheat germ, rolled oats, oil.

Version 2: crystallized ginger, dried apples, dried cranberries, sliced almonds, cacao nibs, wheat germ, flax seeds, rolled oats, oil.