After all, granola is the ideal combination of faintly sweet, slightly salty, crunchy, and infinitely versatile. And while any decent granola recipe can induce happiness when added to a creamy smoothie or bowl of cereal, there is one particular granola recipe that really takes the notion of mood-boosting to new levels: It requires just five ingredients and still manages to hit all of the “Big 6” nutrients that dietitians say are linked to making you happy.
- Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, registered dietitian and nationally-recognized food, nutrition, and wellness expert with a private nutrition counseling practice
From the creative mind of Monique Volz, the food blogger and recipe developer behind The Ambitious Kitchen, this five-ingredient peanut butter granola is a nutrient-packed powerhouse that will start your day off on the right foot...no matter what side of the bed you woke up on. In addition to being delicious, it’s packed with soluble fiber, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, B vitamins, and vanillin, all of which experts have linked to greater mood regulation.
So... How does this peanut butter granola spark joy, exactly?
“Much of the evidence on how nutrients influence your mood has to do with the effects of deficiency on your mood states,” explains Samantha Cassetty, RD. “Low levels of nutrients, such as fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium may be interfering with your happiness levels, and once you replace less healthy foods for nutritious foods, you may notice you have more energy and feel better and happier.”
The specific ingredients in this recipe, Cassetty adds, also happen to be packed with those very mood-boosting nutrients. For starters, the rolled oats that form the basis of this recipe are high in soluble fiber. As such, they play a key role in regulating your blood sugar, which in turn regulates your mood by helping you avoid the spike-then-crash blood sugar cycle. “Fiber plays a role in keeping your gut microbes healthy and happy, which in turn helps keep you healthy and happy,” explains Cassetty. “One study found that a diverse microbiome was tied to better well-being, and one of the best ways to diversify the microbes in your gut is to eat fiber-filled foods.”
Moreover, oats are a great source of magnesium, which is also key for mood regulation. “Insufficient magnesium intake could leave you feeling blah,” says Cassetty. “Magnesium plays a role in your sleep and stress response, and it also helps regulate serotonin. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include fatigue, anxiety, and irritability, so if you’re not getting enough of this mineral, you’re probably not going to be feeling so great.”
Next, there are chia seeds, which are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. "Omega-3s are often touted for their heart health benefits; studies have shown that omega-3s can help reduce blood pressure and triglycerides," says cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, a volunteer medical expert for American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement. But beyond their heart health pros, these essential fats also aid in brain health and mood regulation. Chia seeds are also a good source of magnesium.
Peanut butter, which helps to give this granola its rich, nutty taste, is part of the legume family, which makes it an excellent source of B vitamins. Peanuts, as a result, can help improve mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), all of which play a key role in mood regulation. “A suboptimal intake of vitamins B6, B12, and folate might play a part in mood disorders,” explains Cassetty. “Each of these nutrients has a special role, but they also work synergistically. For example, folate is involved in neurotransmitter signaling. Strong signaling is important for mood regulation. Meanwhile, one analysis found that supplementing with B vitamins could improve stress levels, which could also have an impact on making you feel better and happier.”
Vanilla extract gives an extra depth of flavor to the recipe, and just the scent of vanillin, a phenol component of vanilla, has been shown to have anti-anxiety effects in studies. In fact, researchers found that study participants most frequently had feelings of happiness and relaxation evoked upon smelling vanilla.
Finally, honey, which helps to add just a touch of sweetness to this granola, is an excellent source of both antioxidants and polyphenols, a class of antioxidants that could play a part in your happiness, explains Cassetty. “Polyphenols act as prebiotics, meaning they help the beneficial bacteria in your gut thrive,” she adds. “And evidence suggests that a diverse microbiome is correlated with more positive mood states. Meanwhile, polyphenols may also alleviate inflammation and oxidative stress in your brain, which may also have a beneficial effect on your mood.”
Now that you're sold on the happiness-boosting benefits of this breakfast, check out the full recipe for peanut butter and honey granola below.
Ambitious Kitchen's Peanut Butter Granola Recipe
1/4 cup all natural peanut butter
1/4 cup honey (use coconut palm syrup if vegan)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups rolled oats, gluten-free if desired
2 Tbsp chia seeds
1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a medium baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Add peanut butter, honey, and vanilla extract to a small saucepan and place over low heat; mix to combine and heat until warm. Once warm and well combined, transfer to a medium bowl.
3. Fold in oats and chia seeds into the peanut butter mixture until combined. Spread the oats on the prepared baking sheet.
4. Bake, stirring halfway through to prevent burning, until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the granola cool. The granola will seem soft, but will harden up once cool. Transfer to an airtight container or jar and store at room temp for up to three weeks.
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