Muesli is a cereal that is made from toasted whole oats, nuts, fruit and typically wheat flakes. It uses whole grains, so it is high in dietary fiber, and because it relies on the natural sweetness of the fructose in fruit, it also is low in sucrose. Depending on the proportion of nuts, it also can be relatively high in protein, unlike most other breakfast cereals.
The term "muesli" — for which there are many different spellings — derives from the Swiss German word mus, which means "mixture." Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who ran a sanatorium in Switzerland, invented muesli in the early 20th century. He was keenly interested in promoting a healthy diet and exercise. Along with eating nutritious foods such as muesli and forgoing most if not all meat in their diets, Bircher-Benner’s patients had regular physical exercise and spent a portion of each day gardening. Their behaviors were modeled on the life of Swiss shepherds, who Bircher-Benner felt had the healthiest lifestyle.
Modern muesli can be produced commercially or made at home, and it often differs from the Swiss doctor’s original recipe. Oats can be soaked overnight in juices or water instead of being toasted fresh. Additions to the basic ingredients in this cereal have frequently appeared, such as berries, grapes, mangoes or bananas. The addition of coconut flakes and macadamias can convert this cereal into Hawaiian muesli. Some people add honey or even chocolate to their homemade versions.
This cereal is popular as an ingredient in recipes or as a topping. Some people top foods such as desserts, yogurt or cottage cheese with it. It can be added to muffins, cookies or warm fruit salad. Sometimes, the use of muesli defeats its original purpose of creating a healthy diet. For example, additives such as honey or brown sugar increase the number of calories in it, and cookies or other sugary treats that might be made with this cereal are not always healthful.
People who have a low tolerance to wheat gluten can prepare gluten-free muesli at home. Some gluten-free commercial brands also are available in many grocery stores and natural food stores. Eliminating the wheat flakes and substituting crisped rice or other crisped grains can significantly reduce the amount of gluten in the cereal.