What’s Really in That Sugar Cookie?

By: Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Holiday season is famous for cookies of all shapes, sizes, sparkles and colors.  You may be surrounded by tins and boxes of cookies wrapped so nicely as gifts or you may be bringing a tray to a cookie swap and leaving with even more treats.

Where can holiday cookies fit into your healthy eating plan?  What’s the difference between homemade cookies and store bought?  Can you make a good tasting, healthy cookie?

Packaged holiday sugar cookies may contain ingredients like:
Enriched Flour Bleached (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil, Water. Contains 2% or less of: Eggs, Baking Powder (sodium aluminum phosphate, baking soda), Salt, Red 40, Yellow 6, Artificial Flavor, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Sodium Benzoate

This list is an actual ingredient list from Pillsbury Reindeer & Snowman cookies – it’s the same stuff in different shapes.  Wow.  At first glance this may seem like a list I’d use when teaching a workshop on the most important additives to avoid; but indeed this is a real list I found online. All of these health zapping chemicals and ingredients together in one small cookie!  Many of these items are artificial preservatives or chemicals that can turn food toxic.   Others top our list of 5 foods a naturopath would never eat or our Top 5 food ingredients you should never eat.   Yikes!!

Now that you’re thinking store bought packaged holiday cookies are really not the best choice for your health, you may be searching for recipes to make your own from scratch.  Even a homemade recipe calling for butter and sugar beats the chemical laden example above.  Something real is always better than something fake when it comes to food.  But, Here’s how you can tweak a traditional cookie recipe to make it a healthier choice.

Homemade sugar cookies may call for:
1 cup butter or 1 cup margarine
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 3/4 cups flour

Consider these changes to make it a smarter choice:
Organic grass fed butter is a better choice over margarine which is known for its toxic trans fats but you can also substitute coconut oil for butter making it a dairy free option with healthier fats.

—1 cup of sugar is a lot.  Sub in some unsweetened organic applesauce for sweetness or a mashed banana.  Even cutting to 1/4 -1/2 cup coconut sugar and then adding 1/4 cup maple syrup will help improve the healthiness although the calories will still be higher.  Granted you’re eating a cookie so having more calories isn’t as much of an issue as ingredients but for weight loss, even with Smart Sweets like Almond & Cranberry Teff   or chocolate Almond Crunch Cookies it’s important to be mindful of how many you are enjoying.

-To make this cookie vegan, try subbing 1 T ground flax seed and 3 T water for each egg.  If using eggs choose organic or local when possible.

-For vanilla extract look for a gluten free, alcohol free choice.

-For flour, sub in a gluten free option like quinoa, teff, a blend using brown rice or garbanzo bean for more protein.

When it comes to icing, it’s common to use egg white, confectioner’s sugar, and lemon.  For making colored icing, you can try including juice instead of chemical laden colorings.   Beets makes an awesome red/pink, mint can make a pretty green, and blueberries a beautiful blue plus all lend some sweetness and flavor.

Don’t be afraid to enjoy a cookie this season, but opt for healthier options whe possible and be careful not to go overboard. Wishing you a happy holiday season!

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Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Stacy is a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and an Integrative Nutritionist. She consults for various companies, focusing on health, wellness and innovative strategies to help increase individual’s fruit and vegetable intake. Stacy is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialist; she holds a BS degree in Dietetics from Indiana University, completed her dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, and earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Senior Clinical Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School teaching affiliates, in Boston, MA, with more than 20 years of experience. Stacy created and now serves as project manager and lead writer for nutrition services content on the Dana Farber website and the affiliated, nationally recognized nutrition app. Stacy is regularly featured on TV, radio, print and social media on behalf of Dana Farber and other organizations. Together with her husband, Dr. Russell Kennedy PsyD, they have a private practice, Wellness Guides, LLC. Stacy is an adjunct professor in Wellness and Health Coaching at William James College, currently teaching a graduate course in Health Coaching. Stacy is featured in the award winning documentary films, “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” and “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2,” and serves on the Reboot with Joe Medical Advisory Board. Stacy lives in Wellesley with her husband, two sons and three dogs. She enjoys cooking, yoga, hiking and spending time with friends and family. Stacy is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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