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Since I wrote this a few years ago, I decided to take another look at store bought cookies and see if there are any new ones or maybe some that are gone. I still believe that the healthiest ones are ones you make at home. You can bake cookies with the highest-quality, natural ingredients that are organic. It is a challenge to find all the best ingredients in store bought cookies. I know that Maia and many of you are busy moms who don’t have the time to bake, or maybe you just don’t like baking, but you like to offer your kids cookies from time to time. Who doesn’t love a cookie-and-milk or cookie-and-tea break?
The first thing I look at is the ingredients and the amount of sugar. I try and stay away from highly refined flours, refined sweeteners, heavily processed, low-quality oils, and sketchy additives. I also prefer organic ingredients. (At home, I usually bake with sweeteners like maple sugar, coconut sugar, or honey. For fat, I prefer butter or coconut oil .) I used to only look for whole wheat flour, but I understand that we all want our families to love the cookies and spelt or white wheat flour is lighter and can make for a better cookie.
My Top Pick for Healthiest Cookies
As you’ll see when you read my full review below, I am hooked on Butterfly Bakery cookies, especially the raspberry almond ones. This is not a gluten-free cookie, but the flour used is a whole wheat spelt.
When I lived in Vermont, there was a store-bought cookie that I loved because they used maple syrup as a sweetener. We now stock Butterfly Bakery of Vermont in our warehouse in PA!
Bad Ingredients in Most Cookies
Some cookies I looked at didn’t contain a single ingredient I would call Good Stuff. But there are a few major types of ingredients that I’m most concerned about, with sweeteners and fats being at the top of my list. And whether any of the ingredients are organic.
The problem with many cookies is that the sweetener is not only highly refined white sugar, but also high fructose corn syrup.
High fructose corn syrup is an industrial food product, far from a “natural” substance. It’s cheaper than sugar because of government subsidies and therefore it’s often a sweetener of choice in the standard cookies that you buy at the grocery store. The Mayo Clinic says, “As use of high-fructose corn syrup has increased, so have levels of obesity and related health problems.”
I have added some cookies to the Good Stuff column even though they use sugar, if they are organic and they’re using cane sugar as an alternative to refined sugar. While both sweeteners are made from sugar cane, cane sugar juice does not undergo the same degree of processing that refined sugar does and therefore retains a few more nutrients. I understand that maple, honey, and coconut sugar are still sugar, however, all of them offer some benefits either from nutrients or a slightly lower glycemic index.
And what about agave? This sweetener ranks relatively low on both the glycemic index and glycemic load scales because it has a high content of fructose. Fructose doesn’t spike blood sugar levels because the body doesn’t metabolize it efficiently, but research show that fructose is bad for our livers and causes obesity. And agave contains more fructose even than high fructose corn syrup so should probably be avoided. Maple syrup has a much lower fructose content than agave.
My other major concern with most store-bought cookies is the type of fat used. Partially hydrogenated oils (vegetable, soybean, cottonseed, etc.) are a source of unhealthy trans fats. These oils are used widely in fried and packaged foods because they’re cheap and they greatly extend a food’s shelf life. Unfortunately, they’re really bad for us.
Trans fats raise the risk of heart disease by raising LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and lowering HDL (“good cholesterol”). Human milk contains trans fat if the breastfeeding mother consumes it; the more she eats, the higher the concentration of trans fat in her milk and in her baby’s blood. Trans fat is implicated in cancers of the breast and prostate, diabetes, infertility, Alzheimer’s, obesity (even with similar caloric intake), depression, and other maladies.
Partially hydrogenated oils have been banned in several countries (such as Denmark and Switzerland), states (California), and cities (Calgary, New York City, and others).
You’ll still find them in lots of packaged cookies!
Note: Be wary of packages that say “0g trans fats (per serving).” This does not mean that the food is trans-fat free. It just means that there is a half gram or less of trans fat per serving. (Thanks, labeling laws!) If you look at the ingredient list, you may still see partially hydrogenated oils listed. And even though the amount may be relatively small, trans fats are bad and can add up in our diets—this is especially true for kids.
Another popular fat that is controversial is canola oil. The vast majority of canola oil (if it’s not organic) comes from genetically modified rapeseed plants. Canola oil is the product of a lot of processing, involving chemicals and high temperatures that can compromise the fatty acids, even hydrogenating some. It’s only been part of our food system since the 1970s. I do try to avoid canola oil.
Sunflower oil is used in so many baked goods and snack foods today that it is one of the main reasons I prefer to make my own cookies at home.
Sunflower oil does confer some health benefits, but like many oils it has detriments especially when heated. Sunflower oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are oversupplied in the Western diet, while the crucial omega-3s are undersupplied. The resulting imbalance contributes to cardiovascular disease and inflammatory response in the body. When heated, sunflower oil produces toxic substances called aldehydes that may increase one’s risk of cancer. Deep frying produces the most aldehydes, but sunflower oil generates more aldehydes than other oils regardless of the cooking method. Experts recommend low-heat cooking methods when using sunflower oil. Baking is considered a medium heat method, which is better than high heat.
There is no perfect answer here when it comes to eating cookies. Like so many choices it is always healthier to make your own. I eat some sunflower oil because it is in so many snack foods. I try to keep it to a limit. When I first found Butterfly Bakery they were using butter as a fat and maple syrup. I am sure they switched to sunflower oil because it is less expensive and easier to work with and some think it’s healthier than butter.
Is Gluten-Free Healthier?
Most of the cookies we recommend in this guide are either gluten-free or grain-free. This is not because we believe that flour is toxic, but rather that the brands that use gluten-free ingredients tend to also skip the most problematic sugars and oils in their recipes. That said, there are plenty of gluten-free cookies that we consider Sneaky Stuff, such as Glutino’s, whose FIRST ingredient is sugar, and which contain rice flour (which comes with arsenic concerns), soy lecithin, and natural flavors.
So Are There Healthier Cookie Brands Available?
Short answer: Yes!
Cookies can be Good Stuff, but should be enjoyed as a special treat. You already know that I’m biased in favor of cookies made at home with high-quality, wholesome ingredients (here are my favorites, but you don’t have to come to my house to get Good Stuff cookies. I did find some store-bought cookies that I call Good Stuff and Okay Stuff.
(You’ll notice in this post that I’ve linked a bunch some products to Thrive Market. Thrive is a Costco-meets-Whole-Foods-meets-Amazon model, with hard-to-find healthful foods delivered, for free, at steeply discounted prices.)
To your health,
8 responses to “Healthy Store-Bought Cookie Guide”
I REFUSE!! = I refuse to utilize web sites that direct me – ONLY – Amazon. I find this practice to be unfair to other vendor who are just as good, if not better than Amazon!!!! (Ebay, Target, Walmart, etc.)
Could you take a look at the Costco animal crackers and let me know how bad they are? Thx!
I just recently found these cookies and like them pretty well. What’s your opinion of them?
Bitsys Brainfood Smart Cookies, Orange Chocolate Beet, Sweet Potato Oatmeal Raisin & Zucchini Gingerbread Carrot 5 oz (Variety Pack of 3) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0108ORPQY/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_t2SwybNGAY9YT
I haven’t ever seen this brand. They have some “Good Stuff” and they are organic. The second ingredient is brown sugar so I wouldn’t recommend them as an everyday food. Also, the fat is palm shortening which has some issues. Certainly better than cookies that aren’t organic and ones that contain sugar without any “Good Stuff”.
We recently went on a mission trying to find cookies without palm oil. As you may be aware, palm oil is the major culprit for habitat destruction in many rainforests throughout the world and is THE reason why we may lose orangoutangs in the wild. After looking at many many brands of cookies, I got rather dizzy reading the ingredients lists in the stores and decided no more store bought cookies for us.
There is much more to “good stuff” than just the ingredients–we also have to consider how our actions can impact the world around us and therefore the wellbeing of our children for the future. Can you imagine a world without wildlife?
Yes I agree there is more than just our own personal health. Palm oil is a problem environmentally and for that reason not really “good stuff”. I also agree it is much better to bake your own cookies, then you can know what’s in them. I buy local flour, local butter, and local maple sugar.
Does the “local” store have a website? Thanks for the tips.