Are Graham Crackers Healthy? Here's What a Dietitian Has to Say
Can you imagine life without graham crackers? How would you eat a s'more? What would you use for that Key lime pie crust? Life is better with graham crackers in it. But what exactly is a graham cracker and why were graham crackers invented? Do they hold any nutritional value or are they more cookie than cracker? Let's find out!
What Is a Graham Cracker?
A bit of history first. The graham cracker was created in 1829 by Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister from Connecticut. Graham was a well-known proponent of a healthy lifestyle with a strong stance on morality. Embedded in that stance was a conviction that a strict, plant-forward diet was an important component to living a "wholesome" life. Often referenced as the "father of vegetarianism," Graham advised his followers (known as Grahamites) to eat a diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and to avoid white bread (which he calls "trash" in his Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making), chocolate, tea, coffee and alcohol. Just to be clear, we here at EatingWell definitely don't agree with his sentiments toward white bread, or any refined grain for that matter. Everything in moderation!
His commitment to this lifestyle led him to experiment with flour. He sought an alternative to the refined flours he found revolting. The result—graham flour—is a coarsely ground whole-grain wheat flour. He used it to create the graham cracker, which he considered a tool in suppressing immorality. So knowing that, what was the original graham cracker like? It appears to have been more cracker than cookie. Made of unrefined, whole-grain graham flour without sugar or spices, the cracker has been described as bland and boring. This makes sense, considering Graham's stance on food, health and morality. And that's a vast difference from the graham cracker we know and love today.
So what happened? Flash forward to 1925 when Honey Maid Grahams were brought to the market by the Pacific Coast Biscuit Company (which was later acquired by the National Biscuit Company, or Nabisco). These grahams were made with real honey and spices and closely resemble the graham crackers we know and enjoy today.
Graham Cracker Nutrition
- 130 calories
- 2 g protein
- 3 g fat
- 0.5 g saturated fat
- 0 mg cholesterol
- 23g carbohydrates
- 1 g fiber
- 7 g sugar
- 155 mg sodium
- 23 mg calcium
- 1 mg iron
So, Are Graham Crackers Healthy?
In Graham's day, the answer might have been "yes," but today the answer is more of a "not so much." That's because today's versions are made primarily with refined wheat flour along with a smattering of whole-grain wheat flour, sugar, oil, a leavening agent and salt. So while graham crackers are not necessarily unhealthy—they're not astronomically high in calories or saturated fat—they're also not a great source of any nutrients. But while as a stand-alone food they don't pack a nutritional punch, when you pair them with the right foods, they can become a vehicle for other nutrients to enter the diet, says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S.. RDN, CPT, a nutrition expert, author and owner of ShawSimpleSwaps.com. Think nut or seed butter, fresh or dried fruit or even cheese—these are all nutritious foods that pair well with graham crackers.
How to Choose Your Graham Cracker
Is one graham cracker type or brand better than another? As with all packaged foods, be a label reader. While most brands and even flavors (chocolate, cinnamon-sugar, plain) are fairly similar in terms of calorie content and added sugar, the ingredients they use may differ. So decide what's important (type of added sugar, type of oil or other additives) to help you to narrow down your options. But is it worth stressing over? Not really. Shaw recommends that "unless you require a gluten-free graham cracker for dietary reasons, purchase whatever graham cracker you enjoy the most. Believe it or not, whether you purchase the traditional honey-sweetened graham cracker, or opt for a fun flavor like cinnamon or chocolate, they all deliver the same 8 grams of added sugar per 2-full-sheet serving size."
How Can You Enjoy Graham Crackers?
The beauty of the graham cracker is its versatility. That crunch and subtle sweetness make it easy to pair with so many other nourishing foods. That's the reason Shaw loves them as a snack "canvas" for kids. "Try mixing unsweetened Greek yogurt with natural food dyes to make "edible paint" to brush over graham crackers," she recommends. Then serve a few age-appropriate toppings alongside, like chia seeds, flaxseed, raisins, cacao nibs, etc., for fun, nourishing decorations. Graham crackers are an adult-approved snack too. Try them as dippers or toppers for your smoothie bowl or parfait. Top with cheese and chopped, dried fruit for a yummy snack or mix into some frozen yogurt. Or go with a protein punch, says Shaw, and top your graham crackers with nut or seed butter and sliced banana or other fruit of your choice.
No need to toss that box of graham crackers. Instead, think beyond s'mores and use them instead to create tasty, nourishing snacks. Keep to one serving and, most importantly, enjoy!