The Girl Scouts have added a new flavor—Caramel Chocolate Chip—to their 2019 cookie lineup. The latest cookie features “rich caramel, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and a hint of sea salt,” but the biggest news is what it doesn’t have: Unlike traditional chocolate chip cookies, this one is gluten-free.
The new gluten-free Caramel Chococolate Chip cookie will be available in select areas, while others will be offered the gluten-free Toffee-tastic cookie, first introduced in 2015. That means that for the first time, Girl Scout cookie customers all over the country will have a gluten-free option along with old-school favorites like Thin Mints, Shortbreads, and Caramel deLites.
This is certainly great news for people who have a medical reason to avoid gluten—especially for those with a sweet tooth and a desire to support their (Girl Scout) troops. But are these gluten-free options actually any healthier than the rest of the cookie choices? And speaking of “healthy,” what’s the smartest cookie to buy from a nutritional perspective? We spoke with Health contributing editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, and pored over the labels of every Girl Scout cookie for sale this year. Here’s what we learned.
The gluten-free options
As far as fat and calories go, the gluten-free options fall right in the middle of the Girl Scout cookie spectrum. A serving size of three Caramel Chocolate Chip cookies has 170 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 12 grams of sugar, while a serving size of two Toffee-tastic cookies has 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 7 grams of sugar.
Instead of traditional (and glutenous) wheat flour, the Caramel Chocolate Chip cookies are made with gluten-free oat flour. Toffee-tastics, on the other hand, are made with rice flour and tapioca starch. As far as other allergens go, both contain dairy, and Toffee-tastic also contains soy.
Oat flour contains fiber, with a serving of three Caramel Chocolate Chip cookies providing 2 grams (7% of the daily recommended value) of this important nutrient. In that sense, the chocolatey treats win out, nutritionally, over the toffee flavor.
But that doesn’t make this cookie a health food, says Sass. “It simply makes it an option for people who cannot consume gluten, due to Celiac disease or non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, who can consume the other ingredients in the cookie,” says Sass. “It’s still very processed, it contains dairy, and the cookies pack 12 grams of sugar—3 teaspoons worth—per serving.”
According to a Girl Scouts of the USA press release, the gluten-free options may also be priced higher than other Girl Scout cookies, “reflecting the cost of production.”
Girl Scout cookies by the numbers
If you’re not concerned with getting a gluten-free cookie, you’ve got other options. First, the “worst” when it comes to calorie count: A single S’mores cookie has between 75 and 90 calories, depending on which of two licensed bakeries they come from.
Also coming in around 75 calories apiece are Samoas/Caramel deLites (names vary depending on the bakery), Thanks-A-Lots, and Lemonades. Right behind them are Tagalongs and the gluten-free Toffee-tastic cookies (all with 70 calories each) and Peanut Butter Patties (with 65 calories per cookie).
Next you’ve got Peanut Butter Sandwiches and the new Caramel Chocolate Chip (about 57 calories each), Do-Si-Dos (about 53 calories), and Thin Mints (40 calories). Shortbreads/Trefoils and Savannah Smiles have the fewest calories per cookie, at just around 30.
It’s also worth noting, however, that these cookies have different serving sizes—ranging from two to five cookies—and we all know that it’s very difficult to eat just one Girl Scout cookie. (In fact, it can be quite easy to eat an entire sleeve.)
The good news? If you do follow the serving size for any of these cookies, you’ll get a snack that’s less than 200 calories. You’ll also get somewhere between 4.5 grams and 9 grams of fat and between 9 and 16 grams of sugar. (Shortbread/Trefoil cookies are at the low end for both, while S’mores are at the top.)
Should you or shouldn’t you indulge once a year?
But the not-so-good news, says Sass, is that Girl Scout cookies are still not actually healthy. “They’re all highly processed and should be considered occasional treats balanced out by lots of nutrient-rich whole foods,” she says.
Sass asks her clients if Girl Scout cookies are something they really can’t live without, or whether they’re just eating them out of habit or nostalgia. On a scale of 0 (“meh”) and 5 (“absolute favorite”), people should be able to forego a treat that doesn’t rank at least a 4, she says—even if it’s only available once a year.
“I also ask my clients to reflect on how they feel when they eat certain treats,” she says. “For example, does the food trigger bloating, fatigue, or brain fog, or worsen inflammation? If so, they may decide to nix it, especially if it doesn’t rank a 4 or 5.”
If it does rank that high—like me with Thin Mints!—try to pay attention to how often and how much you can have to avoid too many unwanted symptoms, Sass says. (And, of course, pay attention to those serving sizes, as well.) “The goal is not willpower or deprivation,” she says. “It’s all about balance, feeling good, and truly enjoying what you eat.”
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