I just told my business coach, a.k.a “harsh taskmaster,” that I was busy doing research for an article. And by research, I mean baking cookies. I wasn’t exactly lying, because I baked these cookies to confirm my hunch about something. It’s about the idea of “healthy food”.
I kind of hate the word healthy. Ok, that’s not completely true – it’s an okay word to describe things that help our bodies live longer and better. Nothing wrong with that, right? But the word is used so often and so broadly that it’s not all that helpful to us – especially for managing our body comp. Want to lose fat or keep yourself from gaining it? You probably consciously think about eating “healthy food”.
But what does that mean, exactly?
It took screwing around on social media looking for recipes to realize that many of us don’t have a clear picture of what “healthy” means as it relates to managing our weight. I saw breakfasts full of wonderful, nutrient rich ingredients that were also 500 kcal or more and mostly carbohydrate with little to no protein. If you’re trying to lose fat, that may not be the best breakfast option.
I also saw recipes labeled similarly that contained staggering amounts of coconut oil and high calories to boot. Interestingly, the search also turned up an images of a really bizarre, glowing picture of an intestine coupled with a woman in a sports bra. Yeah, “healthy” on social media can get pretty weird.
Mostly, I found recipes for baked goods that looked so pretty and yet seemed virtuous. I mean, the caption always reads something like “no sugar treat” or “yummy fat loss snack!”
So I made some cookies. Here was my inspiration:
Hmmm. The caption says “sugar free”. I found the recipe while searching for ‘healthy’. Who wouldn’t want a healthy cookie? Or any cookie? Check out these ingredients though:
-a half cup of raisins
This recipe isn’t sugar free. Sugar isn’t something to get your knickers in a knot about, by the way. It’s the total amount of sugar that we have in our diets that matters most. But bananas have sugar. And raisins are not only very concentrated sources of calories, they almost always contain added sugar.
Still, fruit is also coupled with fiber and nutrients that make it an excellent part of our diet.
However, the recipe also seems woefully lacking in basic components of a baked good. Where’s the leavener like baking powder or soda? Why aren’t there any binders like egg, even if the recipe’s author chooses to leave out fat? Fats aren’t the enemy of good health either. But they’re high in calories and eating too much of them, just like too much sugar, isn’t wonderful for our bodies. Moderating them can help both our calorie balance as well as our health. We don’t have to avoid them entirely.
Beyond lacking “truth in advertising”, these cookies sounded pretty terrible. So of course I had to bake them to see if these could actually work.
At the same time, I wondered how they would stack up in terms of both nutrition and flavor with my favorite oatmeal raisin cookie recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook. To make my experiment as sciencey and fair as possible, I used the same 2 inch scoop to make uniform cookies and logged all the nutrition info into my recipe creator on Myfitnesspal.
Any guesses on my results?
Here’s how they came out:
In my bake off, the two cookies were nearly identical in calorie count – close enough for me, at least.
“Healthy” cookie nutrition: 117kcal|29.6g carbs|2.5g protein|.9g fat|9.5 g fiber|7.9g sugars
“Decadent bakery cookie” nutrition: 138 kcal|21.5g carb|1.8g protein|.9g fiber|13.7g sugars
Where they diverge the most is in fiber count – with the extra fruit and whole grain, the Pinterest recipe had an impressive amount of fiber for one cookie, as well as less overall sugar than its traditional counterpart. The banana also gave the cookie a good boost of potassium.
So what’s the problem? It tastes like… I’m not sure I can fully describe to you just how bad this cookie tastes. There’s no sweetness, despite it containing so much fruit. It tastes almost like nothing, and the texture is just awful: it’s gummy and rubbery and when I threw it against the wall, it bounced back onto the plate. That can’t be good, right?
Meanwhile, the Flour bakery cookie tastes like a perfect oatmeal cookie: lightly perfumed with nutmeg and cinnamon, chewy in the middle and crusty around the edges. Mmm, cookies.
The real deal is this: if I really need some fiber, I can think of about 10 things I’d rather eat than “healthy cookies”: a banana, a bowl of raspberries, or some oatmeal. In fact, I’d rather eat a plate of kale than this cookie. It’s that terrible.
Cookies have ingredients like sugar, eggs, and butter for a reason: they make cookies taste good. They’re not meant to supply us with our vitamins and minerals. They’re supposed to be a treat. So from my day of cookie adventures, I’ll share the biggest takeaways:
- Be wary of “sugar free” and “healthy” labels on recipes. While many recipes labeled this way may have good nutrition, they can be just as high or higher in calories as anything else. Eating them with abandon with the perception that they’re good for us can impact our weight.
- Calling something a healthy treat may lead us to overindulge because we perceive that it’s good for us.
- The differences nutritionally between cookie imposters and the real deal may be more minimal than we think.
- For fat loss, calories still matter the most.
- If you’re going to eat a cookie, make it a really good one: raisins optional. Have some spinach on the side if you’re looking for more whole foods.
I’ll be pawning off cookies for a few days now.
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