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Sometimes you get a hunger that only a warm cookie can satisfy. The best nutrition plan is one that strikes a healthy balance, and that means saying yes to the occasional store-bought dessert—after all, many of us have an undeniable sweet tooth. When you’re making an effort to support your body with healthy foods, it may seem like those cravings shouldn’t be entertained. But there are ways to find options that bring all the pleasure with less of the guilt.
“When it comes to packaged sweet treats, there are some products that are better than others,” says Sydney Greene, MS, RD, nutritionist, and coach at Greene Health. It can be easy to feel drawn to an item based on buzzwords and packaging, but you might not be getting the full picture. That’s why becoming familiar with how to read nutrition facts and ingredient lists is important for health-conscious consumers. “Shoppers should look for cookies with the shorters ingredient lists and avoid those that sound too good to be true, like ‘protein cookies’ or ‘keto cookies.’ Many times, these cookies are loaded with artificial sweeteners that can cause unwanted GI issues.”
But how do you judge an ingredient list on the back of a cookie box? For indulgences like these, Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and The Portion Teller Plan, recommends taking stock of three fundamental factors: sugar, fat, and flour.
“Pay attention to the added sugar content. Most brands pack their cookies with highly processed and refined sugar. High fructose corn syrup is another sweetener that should be avoided at all costs,” Young warns. “Some better sweetener alternatives are maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar. However, quantity matters most!” A good rule of thumb is to keep the sugar content as low as possible, according to Greene, ideally less than 10 grams per serving.
“Another important thing to keep in mind is the type of fat in your cookies,” says Young. “Partially hydrogenated oils should be avoided as they contain trans fat.” These harmful oils can take the form of vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, or margarine, and over time, contribute to high cholesterol, increased inflammation throughout the body, and cardiovascular disease.
“Lastly, I will look for the type of flour being used. Most packaged cookies contain highly processed white flour, or in other terms ‘enriched wheat flour,'” Young notes. “Choosing alternative flours like brown rice flour or whole wheat flour adds more nutrients like vitamins and minerals to the recipe content.”
While it’s good to be mindful of what you’re eating, being overly restrictive never pays off. We think you should have your cookie and eat it too, while taking just a little bit of time to scope out the back of the box. To take the guesswork out of your search, we rounded up these expert-approved picks.
MadeGood is a B Corp-certified snack brand. And while it’s best known for its granola, it also makes some excellent cookies that are vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, and certified organic. They even contain vegetable extracts that make them a great source of vitamins A, B6, C, D, and E.
“If you are in charge of packing school lunches for a child, MadeGood cookies are an incredible option,” says Greene. “Free of many of the common allergens, one serving is relatively low in sugar compared to other brands so you’ll skip that sugar crash.”
Choose from Chocolate, Double Chocolate, Vanilla, and Snickerdoodle varieties. Big box retailers like Target and Walmart carry some mini varieties of the treat. They can also be found at grocery stores like Mariano’s, Kroger, and Whole Foods.
This “purposeful” snack company puts out nutritious, whole-foods-based products that are meant to be good for you and the planet. And according to Greene, the cookies are no exception. Made with almond and coconut flour, coconut oil, and coconut sugar, they’re a great option for munching. “One serving of four cookies contains only seven grams of sugar from coconut sugar, which is slightly lower on the glycemic index compared to regular table sugar,” she says.
Not to mention, its special flour blends offer some great nutritional benefits, adds Young. “These cookies are made with a nut and seed blend, including flax seeds which contain omega-3 fatty acids.” Just keep in mind that it’s not suitable for those with nut allergies.
Buy them at stores nationwide, including grocers like Whole Foods and retailers like Target.
“Who doesn’t love cookie dough that you can eat raw?” says Greene about the clean, gluten-free, healthier cookie brand. Sweet Loren’s offers eggless edible raw cookie dough in 12-ounce tubs made with sustainably sourced ingredients. The brand even makes a “Less Sugar” option in pre-cut rounds to fill your kitchen with that delicious, freshly baked cookie aroma.
“One cookie contains six grams of added sugar which might top the list for cookies with the lowest sugar content,” notes Greene. “Sweet Loren’s does not use artificial sweeteners. They just figured out how to make a cookie taste great with less sugar.”
This sweet selection can be found in many grocery chains, like Safeway, Whole Foods, and Target.
The chocolate company that believes in “getting back to human” introduced a grain-free cookie that curbs cravings without the sugar. With a lineup of classics like Chocolate Chip, Snickerdoodle, Ginger Snap, and Peanut Butter, these cookies are certified paleo- and keto-friendly, gluten-free, and GMO-free.
“Hu cookies are a great healthier cookie alternative, as the ingredients are high quality. These cookies have zero added sugar and no artificial ingredients,” says Young. “They’re sweetened with dates, which is an excellent source of sugar. Moreover, most of the ingredients in these cookies are organic.”
These are available in select grocers and can also be purchased online.
Looking to sink your teeth into a certified organic, vegan, and gluten-free cookie? This brand has a plant-based, simple ingredient mission to make better-for-you snacks. “Skout Organic cookies are made with wholesome ingredients that you would find in your own pantry,” says Greene.
You can devour a serving of these naturally sweetened cookies in Gingerbread Spice, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, or Peanut Butter flavors without any guilt. “Sweetened with dates and coconut sugar, two cookies contain only four grams of added sugar,” Greene adds. “These cookies also check the box for those who are gluten-free, vegan, and Kosher.”
Skout sells its treats at health grocers like Sprouts Farmers Market, Fresh Thyme Market, Central Market, and Thrive Market.
Some like their cookies crunchy, and some like them chewy. Whichever you prefer, you can pick up your favorite from Partake Foods. The food-inclusive, B Corp-certified brand carries boxes of full-sized cookies, mini cookies, and snack pack—so the portion control is built in.
“Another cookie that is great for kid’s lunch boxes, Partake cookies are free of the top nine allergens,” says Greene. “These cookies are relatively low in sugar and come in a variety of flavors.”
These high-quality confections are available at The Fresh Market, Safeway, Publix, Kroger, and Sprouts.
The name of this all-natural dessert brand is apt, because the cookie selection at Maxine’s Heavenly is transcendent. These mouthwatering cookies look extravagant while only containing about five grams of sugar a piece, along with plenty of other wholesome ingredients.
“Maxine’s Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies contain no refined sugars and use dates and coconut sugar to sweeten the cookies,” says Young. “These cookies are made with oat flour which is a great source of dietary fiber. They also include flax seeds which are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, making this an extremely healthful and delicious cookie.”
Don’t forget about Maxine’s array of soft-baked cookies, ranging from Mint Chocolate Chunk to Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin. Find these at your local natural grocery store.
Cappello’s is a Colorado-based company that champions real food. They’ve reinvented pasta and pizza with almond flour, and now they’ve brought their expertise to the timeless classic: chocolate chip cookies for you to take home and bake in your own oven.
“This cookie dough is grain-free, gluten-free, paleo, dairy-free, soy-free, and made with ingredients sourced non-GMO,” says Young. “These are made mostly with almond flour and also arrowroot flour. Maple syrup is included for sweetness.”
Cappello’s is sold at most Whole Foods locations and other national stores.
You may have heard of this Mexican-American brand’s revolutionary grain-free taco shells and tortilla chips. Now, say hello to Siete cookies. You can enjoy the bold flavors of Mexican Wedding Cookies, Mexican Shortbread, or Mexican Chocolate with no more than eight grams of sugar per serving.
“Siete just recently came out with a new line of grain-free cookies that are gluten-free and vegan,” says Young. “This healthy cookie alternative is made with a blend of almond flour, coconut oil, and coconut sugar and filled with healthy fats and unrefined sugar.”
Find them at a supermarket near you.
There’s a sweet twist behind the story of Chelsea Approved desserts. After a Crohn’s Disease diagnosis, a Vermont bakery owner worked hard to find the treats she could stomach—and these minimalist cookies were born. For anyone with a restricted diet, you can get your fix with these cookie mixes. They have only a handful of ingredients, including buckwheat and oat flour, and cane sugar.
“This is an excellent cookie option for those with specific dietary preferences,” says Greene. “Finding a cookie mix that is vegan, gluten-free, Kosher, and does not contain any nuts in the ingredient list can be challenging and this product checks all of the boxes.”
The cookie mixes are available at select grocery stores in Vermont and New York, with further expansion to come.