Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Girl Scout Cookies Bad For You?



Short answer

Girl Scout Cookies are high in added sugars and fats, especially saturated fats, with minimal protein and dietary fibers. Regular consumption of these treats can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Enjoying them in moderation and as part of a balanced diet is essential for health.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content of Popular Girl Scout Cookie Varieties

Girl Scout Cookies are a beloved treat across the United States, known not just for their delightful taste but also for being a significant fundraising tool for the Girl Scout organization. However, like many processed snacks, they contain ingredients and nutritional profiles that may give health-conscious consumers pause. Let's delve into the nutritional content of some of the most popular Girl Scout Cookie varieties to better understand their impact on one's diet.

1. Thin Mints: Perhaps the most iconic of all, Thin Mints are chocolate wafers dipped in a chocolate coating with a hint of mint. A serving size of four cookies (32 grams) typically contains:

  • Calories: 160
  • Total Fat: 8g (Saturated Fat: 5g)
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 120mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 22g (Dietary Fiber: 1g, Total Sugars: 10g)
  • Protein: 1g

2. Samoas / Caramel deLites: These feature a crunchy cookie base, caramel, coconut, and a chocolate drizzle. A serving size of two cookies (38 grams) contains:

  • Calories: 140
  • Total Fat: 8g (Saturated Fat: 6g)
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 55mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 19g (Dietary Fiber: 1g, Total Sugars: 11g)
  • Protein: 1g

3. Tagalongs / Peanut Butter Patties: These consist of a crispy cookie topped with peanut butter and covered in chocolate. A serving size of two cookies (31 grams) has:

  • Calories: 140
  • Total Fat: 9g (Saturated Fat: 5g)
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 110mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 13g (Dietary Fiber: < 1g, Total Sugars: 8g)
  • Protein: 2g

4. Trefoils / Shortbread: These simple shortbread cookies are light and buttery. A serving size of four cookies (32 grams) includes:

  • Calories: 160
  • Total Fat: 8g (Saturated Fat: 2.5g)
  • Cholesterol: 5mg
  • Sodium: 110mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 21g (Dietary Fiber: <1g, Total Sugars: 7g)
  • Protein: 2g

5. Do-si-dos / Peanut Butter Sandwich: These are oatmeal sandwich cookies with a peanut butter filling. A serving of three cookies (34 grams) includes:

  • Calories: 170
  • Total Fat: 8g (Saturated Fat: 2.5g)
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 135mg
  • Total Carbohydrates: 23g (Dietary Fiber: 1g, Total Sugars: 11g)
  • Protein: 3g

Across different varieties, most Girl Scout Cookies share common characteristics: they are rich in added sugars and fats, particularly saturated fat. While they do provide minimal amounts of protein and dietary fiber, these amounts are not significant enough to contribute to daily nutritional goals.

It’s important to consider these nutritional facts in the context of a balanced diet. Occasional indulgence is part of a realistic and sustainable eating pattern, but regular consumption of high-sugar, high-fat treats can contribute to various health issues over time, such as obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Portion control is key when enjoying such cookies, and supplementing them with more nutritious foods throughout the day can help to maintain overall dietary balance.

Understanding the nutritional content of these popular cookies can empower consumers to make informed decisions. It's a reminder that while the cookies support a cause, being mindful of consumption supports personal health." Keep in mind that the actual nutritional values can vary slightly depending on the bakery that produces the cookies — always check the packaging for the most accurate information.

Added Sugars and Their Impact on Health

When delving into the ingredients of popular snack items such as Girl Scout cookies, added sugars quickly come to the fore. The consumption of added sugars in the diet, especially in high amounts, has been linked to various adverse health effects. Understanding these relationships is key to making informed dietary choices.

Firstly, it's important to differentiate between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods like fruits and milk, while added sugars are incorporated during processing and preparation. Most Girl Scout cookies contain added sugars, which can contribute to several negative health outcomes when consumed in excess.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, it is recommended that added sugars make up less than 10% of one's daily caloric intake. However, some varieties of Girl Scout cookies can contribute a significant portion of this recommended limit in just a few servings. For instance, the beloved Samoas/Caramel deLites have 12 grams of added sugars per 2 cookies. This translates to nearly 25% of the daily limit for added sugars for individuals following a 2,000-calorie diet—just from a small snack.

Health Implications of Excessive Added Sugars:

  • Weight Gain and Obesity: High intake of added sugars has been linked to increased body weight and risk of obesity, as found in a study published in The BMJ, due to its high caloric content and potential to reduce satiety.
  • Risk of Heart Disease: Research including one influential study in JAMA Internal Medicine has shown that a sugar-laden diet is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, even independent of weight gain.
  • Poor Glycemic Control: Added sugars can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to insulin resistance and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, as detailed by the American Diabetes Association.
  • Dental Health: Sugars are well-recognized contributors to dental caries and tooth decay, according to the World Health Organization.

With these potential health impacts, it's crucial for individuals to be mindful of the amount of added sugars they consume from treats like Girl Scout cookies. Moderation is key, and it's advisable to enjoy these cookies as part of a balanced diet that limits high-sugar foods.

Furthermore, it's beneficial to be aware of other names for added sugars that may appear on ingredient labels. These can include:

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Fructose
  • Sucrose
  • Maltose
  • Dextrose
  • Invert sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Corn sweetener

Becoming more knowledgeable about these alternate names can help consumers make better decisions about their sugar intake when indulging in products like Girl Scout cookies. In summary, while it's important to support Girl Scout initiatives, from a health perspective, the added sugars found in these cookies should prompt consideration and restraint to maintain overall well-being.

Trans Fats and Hydrogenated Oils in Baked Goods

Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are a form of unsaturated fat that come in both natural and artificial forms. In recent years, trans fats have become notorious for their negative health impacts. Hydrogenated oils, often used as a cost-effective alternative to other fats, are the primary source of artificial trans fats in foods. Understanding their prevalence and health implications, particularly in popular treats such as baked goods, is essential for informed dietary choices.

When it comes to cookies, including the delightful varieties sold by organizations like Girl Scout cookies, analyzing the ingredients is key. Some of these cookies historically contained partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)—the main source of artificial trans fats. However, due to widespread recognition of associated health risks, many brands have reduced or eliminated PHOs from their recipes. Let's delve into what makes these fats worrisome:

  • Increased Risk of Heart Disease: Trans fats have been linked to heightened risk of coronary heart disease. They can increase the level of 'bad' LDL cholesterol while decreasing the 'good' HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream, thereby contributing to plaque build-up in the arteries.
  • Impact on Cholesterol Levels: Consumption of trans fats alters the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol, which is a predictor of cardiovascular risk. Elevated LDL levels due to trans fats are a concern recognized by health professionals globally.
  • Association with Inflammation: Some studies have suggested that trans fats may induce an inflammatory response within the body, which can be a precursor to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
  • Links to Insulin Resistance: Regular consumption of trans fats has been associated with an increased risk of developing insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes.

Given the gravity of these health concerns, regulatory bodies have taken action. The FDA, for example, has determined that PHOs are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in human food. This determination, put into effect as of June 18, 2018, has led to a significant reduction in trans fats in the American diet. Subsequent to these regulatory actions, many Girl Scout cookies now feature "0 grams trans fat per serving" on their nutrition labels, indicating the shift away from PHOs.

However, "per serving" designation is an area where consumers should remain cautious. Even if the trans fat content is under 0.5 grams per serving, manufacturers are allowed to round down to zero, which means eating several servings could result in a notable intake of trans fats. Therefore, scrutinizing the ingredient list for terms like "partially hydrogenated oil" is still a prudent practice for avoiding these hidden fats.

While some Girl Scout cookies have removed hydrogenated oils from their recipes, variations in recipes and manufacturing processes mean that not all options are free from these ingredients. It's advisable to review the ingredient and nutritional information for each type of cookie to make an informed choice. Transparency in labeling allows for better decisions, but it's ultimately up to the consumer to take that step in the context of their overall diet and nutritional goals. Remember, moderation is key, as even small amounts of trans fats can add up over time, potentially leading to adverse health outcomes.

Comparing Girl Scout Cookies to Other Snack Options

When debating the merits of Girl Scout Cookies, it's helpful to analyze them within the context of other common snack options. Snacks can vary widely in terms of nutritional value, ingredient quality, and health impact. To provide a clearer picture, let's explore where these iconic cookies stand amongst their snack peers.

Nutritional Profile Analysis

First, we'll look at the caloric density and nutrient balance of Girl Scout Cookies compared to other snacks. For example, a serving of Thin Mints contains approximately 160 calories, 7 grams of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrates, and 1 gram of protein. This profile is similar to many store-bought cookies, which typically offer quick energy without substantial nutritional benefits.

Ingredient Quality Comparison

Girl Scout Cookies often contain ingredients like enriched flour, sugar, and palm oil. These are common in other processed snacks like candy bars or pre-packaged pastries. However, compared to snacks such as mixed nuts or fruit strips, which offer natural vitamins, minerals, and fibers, the ingredient quality and health implications differ markedly. It's essential to read labels and understand the potential effects of additives like preservatives, artificial flavors, or trans fats that may be present in many processed snacks.

Health Impact Context

In moderation, Girl Scout Cookies can fit into a balanced diet, much like any other processed snack. The key is to consume them mindfully, considering the sugar and saturated fat content that can add up quickly. For instance, consuming a package of Samoas (also known as Caramel deLites) contributes a significant amount of added sugar to one's daily intake, a concern shared with many candy and dessert items.

Alternative Snack Options

  • Whole Foods: Snacks like fresh fruit, vegetables with hummus, or plain Greek yogurt offer essential nutrients without the added sugars and fats found in cookies.
  • Homemade Snacks: Making snacks at home allows for control over the ingredients and can result in healthier versions of sweet treats with reduced sugar and more whole grains.
  • Healthier Packaged Snacks: Some packaged snacks are formulated with better-for-you ingredients, like whole-grain granola bars or nut-based bars that provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

Ultimately, while Girl Scout Cookies share similarities with many popular snacks, they also carry the downsides of processed foods. In terms of ingredient quality and nutritional value, they often fall short compared to whole food snack options. Yet, for an occasional indulgence within the scope of an overall healthy diet, they can be enjoyed in moderation.

Scientific Research Insights

According to research studies and health expert opinions, the frequent consumption of high-sugar, high-fat snacks is linked to negative health outcomes, including weight gain and increased risk for chronic diseases. By comparing the specific content of Girl Scout Cookies with alternative snacks that have a better nutritional footprint, one can make informed choices on how often and how much to indulge in these sweet treats.

An observational study published in the Journal of Public Health (DOI: 10.1093/pubmed/fdv044) points out that higher intake of ultra-processed foods, such as packaged cookies, is associated with an increased likelihood of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, further emphasizing the importance of wise snack choices.

Mindful Consumption: Balancing Treats with a Healthy Diet

Indulging in a box of Girl Scout cookies has become a beloved tradition for many, a symbol of supporting youth empowerment and enjoying a tasty treat. Yet, when addressing the question of whether these cookies are 'bad' for you, it's crucial to approach the topic with balance and mindfulness. Moderation is key, as is understanding how these cookies fit into a well-rounded, nutritious diet.

To practice mindful eating, consider the following approaches:

  • Portion Size: Reflect on serving size and limit consumption. Girl Scout cookies are often enjoyed in group settings. To avoid overindulgence, pre-determine how many cookies you'll eat and stick to that decision. This helps prevent mindless eating and ensures that you savor each cookie.
  • Nutritional Composition: Inspect the nutrition label. While Girl Scout cookies provide a burst of sweetness, they are typically rich in sugars and fats with minimal nutritional benefits. Acknowledge that they should complement, not replace, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins in your diet.
  • Frequency of Consumption: Limit how often you indulge. Girl Scout cookies are a seasonal offering, making it easier to treat them as an occasional indulgence rather than a staple in your diet.
  • Mindful Eating Techniques: Focus on the experience of eating. Enjoy each bite, noting the texture, taste, and pleasure it brings. This practice can help you appreciate the treat without overeating.
  • Alternative Snacks: Consider healthier options for regular snacking. Nutrient-rich snacks like nuts, yogurt, or fruit could satisfy your craving while providing beneficial nutrients.

Experts recommend the '80/20' rule, aiming for a diet comprised of 80% whole and unprocessed foods while allowing for 20% wiggle room for indulgences. This concept helps create a sustainable balance, offering room for treats without compromising overall health. Considering that some varieties of Girl Scout cookies contain as much as 10 grams of sugar per serving, keeping them within the 20% indulgence bracket is a wise strategy to maintain a healthy diet.

A survey by the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that the average American far exceeds the recommended daily intake of added sugars. With awareness and discretion, enjoying Girl Scout cookies in moderation can align with dietary guidelines and prevent excessive sugar consumption, which the AHA links to a higher risk of heart disease and other health complications.

Lastly, always engage with your personal dietary needs and restrictions. Those with specific health conditions, such as diabetes or celiac disease, should choose their treats accordingly and may need to opt for more controlled snack options that align better with their health goals and requirements.

Frequently asked questions

Individuals with dietary restrictions or health conditions, such as diabetes or celiac disease, should carefully consider their treat options. Girl Scout Cookies may not be suitable due to their high sugar and fat content, and some varieties contain gluten. Always check the ingredient and nutritional information, and consider choosing snacks that better align with your dietary needs and health goals.

Yes, you can still enjoy Girl Scout Cookies while watching your weight, but it's important to exercise portion control. Limiting yourself to the serving size listed on the packaging and treating these cookies as an occasional treat rather than a regular snack can help you manage your caloric intake. Complement them with a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods to maintain a balanced eating pattern.

To ensure the Girl Scout Cookies you're choosing do not contain trans fats, read the ingredient list on the packaging. Look for keywords like 'partially hydrogenated oils,' which indicate the presence of trans fats. Even if the nutrition label states '0 grams of trans fat per serving,' this term can mask small amounts of trans fats, as manufacturers are allowed to round less than 0.5 grams per serving down to zero.

For healthier sweet snack alternatives, consider options like fresh fruit, plain Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey, homemade oatmeal cookies with reduced sugar, or whole-grain granola bars that contain minimal added sugars. These alternatives can help satisfy sweet cravings while providing more nutritional benefits such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Ask a question about Girl Scout Cookies and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased blood sugar levels
  • reduced satiety
  • potential dental caries

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • poor glycemic control
  • insulin resistance
  • increased ldl cholesterol
  • inflammation
  • type 2 diabetes

Ingredients to be aware of

Healthier alternatives

  • fresh fruit
  • vegetables with hummus
  • plain greek yogurt
  • homemade snacks
  • whole-grain granola bars
  • nut-based bars

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Goodie Girl Mint Cookies

  • Minty flavor burst
  • Gluten-free treat
  • Convenient 6-pack
  • 7 oz. per pack
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-07-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-07-2023

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