It’s National Cookie Day! This is the perfect day to celebrate with a cookie, so we set out to find the healthiest options.
Buy your cookies at the grocery store and you’re pretty much guaranteed an unhealthy choice. The average serving of supermarket cookie has 6 to 8 grams of fat with about 3 grams of saturated fat. It has about 1 gram of protein and less than 1 gram of fiber. Sugars vary more; we saw a range from 5 grams of sugar per serving to 13 grams.
Compare that with an apple and a serving of cashews — you’d get the same amount of fat but a healthier kind, 5 grams of protein, and 4.5 grams of fiber. You’ll get the same amount of sugar, but it’ll be healthier natural fruit sugar. No question which is the healthier snack choice.
Some specific cookie options with (slightly) better numbers:
- Graham crackers have 0 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of protein, just 1 gram of fiber, and 8 grams of sugar.
- Biscoff cookies have 2 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 10 grams of sugar.
- Fiber 1 brand cookies have 5 grams of fiber and otherwise are typical supermarket cookies.
We thought we might find higher fiber in packaged oatmeal cookies or more protein in peanut butter cookies, but we were wrong. Supermarket cookies also tend to contain high fructose corn syrup and a variety of preservatives and other chemicals that keep them edible on the shelf for months.
So are you better off with homemade cookies?
Taking out the bad stuff
The health issue for homemade cookies is that they’re generally made with refined white flour, butter, and sugar. That’s the recipe for shortbread, and the basis for almost all cookies. None of those three ingredients provides any nutritional value.
Checking cookie recipes around the internet, we found cookies made with almond, whole wheat, or coconut flour instead of white flour. We found recipes made with coconut oil or olive oil instead of butter. There are lots of recipes using substitute sweeteners — which may or may not be a healthier choice.
Amy’s Healthy Cooking had one of the most benign recipes: Coconut Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies.
See the nutrition information at right.
This recipe is lower in sugar and higher in fiber than most packaged cookies — though it can’t beat the apple. Saturated fat is about the same, as is protein. The recipe uses three different alternative sweeteners instead of cane sugar.
We also tried out a traditional cookie with zero fat and just 2 grams of sugar: the meringue.
Meringues are made with egg whites and sugar. Most recipes include vanilla or another flavoring. They have no butter or flour, so you won’t get the buttery crunch that says “cookie” to a lot of us, but they’re a sweet little treat.
These can be good options for cutting fat and/or sugar. They don’t turn your cookies into nutritious snacks, but they can reduce the amount of saturated fat and sugar packed into your Cookie Day treat.
Putting in the Good Stuff
It takes some sophisticated chemistry to reduce the fat and sugar in a cookie, but it’s easy to add nutritious ingredients that give you more fiber and protein.
- Whole grains add fiber and protein. Whole wheat flour and oats turn up in lots of cookie recipes.
- Nuts add fiber and can take the place of some fat in cookies. Since the fat in nuts is healthier than butter or shortening, this can up the overall health value of the cookie.
- Fruit, whether dried fruit, applesauce, mashed bananas, or fresh berries, can increase sweetness and allow you to use less sugar, while also adding fiber and vitamins.
The drawback to baking up a batch of cookies for National Cookie Day? You’ll have dozens of delicious cookies on hand, and you might eat more than if you just buy one or two at a favorite bakery. If you want to limit your cookie indulgence, you can put the extras in the freezer, or make sure to share them!
We have a delicious recipe for cookies with a relatively low amount of fat and sugar, plus lots of wholesome grains, nuts and fruit.
Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies
1 c. white whole wheat flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. rolled oats (old-fashioned oatmeal)
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. raisins
Combine flour, 1 t. cinnamon, and baking soda. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Stir in egg, then applesauce. When the batter is smooth, stir in oats, walnuts, and raisins.
Drop by tablespoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.
This makes a small batch — just 2 dozen — of soft, spicy cookies with 2.7 grams of saturated fat, 2.2 grams of fiber, and 3.5 grams of protein in a two-cookie serving. At 9.1 grams of sugar, this cookie falls in the middle range for sugar, it’s a little lower than most in fat, and it’s higher in protein and fiber.
If you want a cookie for National Cookie Day, go ahead. Make relatively nutritious cookies — or just have one, and know that the rest of the day’s healthy food will balance that cookie.