I lived through the '90s, so when I hear "healthy" and "cookie" in the same sentence, I flash back to the unmistakable kelly green box of Snackwell's fat-free cookies. Masses of people (including everyone in my household) assumed these cookies were not only healthy, but a prescription for weight loss. Years later, we now know that fat doesn't make us fat, and when fat is replaced by loads of sugar, we're certainly not making a nutritious choice.
A client working toward a weight loss goal recently came to me quite excited that she found a way to indulge her sweet tooth with a "healthy cookie." No green box. This cookie is a 4-ounce beast, individually packaged with the words "Complete Cookie" and the tagline "Baked Nutrition" along with some BIG claims on the label: Vegan! 16g Protein! No High Fructose Corn Syrup! No Artificial Sweeteners! 8g Fiber!
Even if all the claims are true, is this a nutritious choice? The truth lies within the ingredient listing, sorted from most to least volume in the cookie:
1. Enriched wheat flour. Make no mistake, friends: This is not whole wheat flour. "Enriched wheat flour" is good old fashioned refined white flour, stripped of its natural fiber and mineral-containing fats. This is the kind of starch we're all trying to avoid.
2. Cane sugar. This is sugar. Period. How much sugar is in one cookie? I noted that there are two servings in each cookie (who eats a half a cookie?!), so if you were to eat the whole cookie (of course you're going to eat the whole cookie), you'll consume 28 grams of sugar, which is 7 teaspoons, or 2 tablespoons plus a teaspoon. For a comparison, a 12-ounce can of soda has 39 grams of sugar, just about a tablespoon more.
3. Palm margarine. In no universe is margarine a nutritious food, but at least this margarine is made without the use of trans fats.
4. Chocolate chips, made from chocolate liqueur, sugar, cacao butter and vanilla. These are standard chocolate chips. No big nutrition wins here.
5. Protein blend. This is the only ingredient in this product that significantly distinguishes it from your standard chocolate chip cookie. There's a blend of pea protein, brown rice protein and wheat gluten beefing up this confection. If you were to eat this whole cookie, you'll be taking in 16 grams of protein, a nice chunk towards your daily needs. However, as Americans, our diets are in no way protein deficient. In fact, we're far more likely to consume excess protein than we need than to be undernourished.
6. Oat fiber, chicory root fiber. With the natural fiber stripped from the wheat flour, the 8 grams of fiber per cookie has to come from somewhere. This added in fiber does not necessarily have the same benefit as naturally occurring fiber in our foods. Chicory root fiber, also called inulin, is added to foods from Fiber One bars to Splenda to give a health halo to naturally fiber-free products, and is often referred to as "farting fiber" in the industry because...well...you can guess (more on inulin HERE).
7. Molasses, vanilla flavor. One natural sweetener plus one likely synthetic flavor.
8. Baking soda, salt. Standard cookie ingredients.
9. Flaxseed. Finally! A wholesome seed! But with this item sooooo low in the ingredient list, even less than salt, it's a very small amount added here.
10. Sunflower lecithin. This is an emulsifier, used to help keep ingredients well-blended. I'm not losing sleep over this ingredient for sure, but it's not a requirement in baking.
On further examination and considering my client's weight loss goal, this is not a great choice for regular indulgence. Does that mean she can never eat the cookie as long as she's trying to lose weight? Of course not. This cookie could be an okay choice right after a tough workout. But otherwise, in order to keep focused on here fitness goal, my client will treat this cookie as she would any other cookie and follow the Treat Treats as Treats rule. And for my money, I'd rather have a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie from a really great bakery or homemade by a friend than a prepackaged cookie like this one.
Do the claims on our food, on the internet and in our grocery stores have you confused about what you should be feeding yourself and your family? Let's talk!