A Tale of Two Cookies

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist March 27, 2012

Which Cookies are Best?

Does the snack aisle at your local healthfood store sometimes paralyze you?   Do you look at the ingredients labels trying to decide exactly which cookies are the best ones to buy and yet feel overwhelmed by the numerous choices available all beckoning with the labels “all natural” or “organic”?

If so, you are not alone.  This happens to me all the time.

Granted, I try my best to avoid the snack aisle at the healthfood store as much as possible and I don’t even go down the snack aisle at the supermarket because there are zero offerings there of any value. As much as is humanly possible, I prefer to make my own snacks for my family as this is always the most nutritious not to mention budget conscious way to go.

But let’s face it.  Life happens and sometimes things just don’t go as scheduled.

All sorts of things from flat tires to your child’s badly scraped knee can occur to mess up your plans for baking an afternoon batch of cookies for school lunches the next day.

What to do then?

I thought it might be fun to analyze two different brands of cookies that I might consider buying when I am in search of a decent after lunch treat for my kids and far behind in my cookie baking duties.

Ginger snaps are one of my favorite store cookies as they are typically lower in sugar per serving than most other types of  processed cookies. They also taste similar to the grain free ginger snaps I make myself, so buying a boxed version made with wheat flour on occasion is not going to all of a sudden cause my children to prefer the processed cookies over my own.

The picture at the top of this post is of the two brands of ginger snaps available at my local healthfood store.

Let’s analyze the ingredients labels of each and see if one of them is the clear winner over the other.

The Front of the Cookie Packages

From the front of the packages, you can’t really discern much if any difference.  They both say “all natural” or “naturally flavored”.

The Mi-del brand says “Swedish Style” which I admit would draw me in as I like anything that suggests that the cookies are based on some traditional recipe.  Of course, this may or may not be true.  It’s all just marketing on the front of the package after all!

From a visual standpoint, the colors of the Back to Nature brand are far more appealing than the Mi-Del brand which are a bit harsh on the eye.   Then again, purple is my favorite color so maybe that’s just my personal preference.

Ingredients Label Comparison

With the front of the packages not really telling us much, it is necessary to examine the ingredients labels to get the full story.

Mi-Del Ginger Snaps Ingredients

The first ingredient label to the right is of the Mi-Del Ginger Snaps.

I like that the wheat used is organic.  That is a definite plus.  In addition, the sweetener is organic dehydrated cane juice which is acceptable.

I don’t like that canola oil is used for the shortening as this is very potentially GM canola as it is not organic.  In addition, canola oil is a polyunsaturated vegetable oil which almost certainly means that it is rancid.

Canola contains high amounts of omega 3 fats which are very delicate and can never be heated.  You most certainly cannot bake cookies with it!.  Use of canola in a boxed snackfood virtually ensures a rancid, health robbing product even if the ingredients are all organic.

Another item I don’t like is the use of soy lecithin.  It is not organic soy lecithin, so the odds are good that it is GM soy given that over 90% of the soy in the the  United States is genetically modified at present.

The second ingredient label to the right is of the Back to Nature Triple Ginger Cookies.

Back to Nature Ginger Cookies Ingredients

You’ll notice right away that the wheat flour used is not organic.  The sweetener is also not as good quality because it is listed simply as cane sugar.  It is not organic and it is not clear whether it is from dehydrated cane juice. It could easily be plain white sugar and probably is.

Not good.

So far, the Mi-Del Ginger Snaps are way in the lead.

However, the next ingredient changes the game entirely as palm oil is listed as the shortening.

This is very good as palm oil is a much healthier choice that the rancid canola oil used in the Mi-Del Ginger Snaps.  Palm oil is acceptable for use in cookies and crackers.  While coconut oil or butter would be best, palm oil can most definitely be considered a healthy fat.

Continuing down the ingredients label, all the other ingredients are excellent as well with no ominous “soy lecithin” listed.

Which Brand Did I Choose?

After analyzing the ingredients labels for these two boxes of ginger cookies, which brand did I ultimately choose?

If you guessed the Back to Nature Triple Ginger Cookies, you are correct!

The fact that the Mi-Del cookies are made with organic wheat flour and organic evaporated cane juice is insignificant compared with the fact that the Back To nature cookies use the much higher quality palm oil and no soy lecithin.

If you ever find yourself torn between two different brands of snack foods, always choose the one with the healthy fat like palm oil.  The fat that is used is much more important than whether the flour or sugar used is organic.

In addition, go for the brand that clearly has no GMOs in it and that would be the Back to Nature brand as well.

Do all Back to Nature cookies get the thumbs up?  Not necessarily.

I haven’t checked the labels on all the different cookies offered by this company, so don’t go and buy them without checking closely for yourself.

For that occasional need for a decent box of cookies from the store, though, the Triple Ginger Cookies pass with flying colors.

 

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

 

Comments (94)

  1. As I was reading your article and came to the canola oil in first box, I said “oh no” Sarah is not going to pick this and after reading the entire article- I too would have chosen the non organic flours over the canola oil. Hey! I am on the right track and I am a newbie. Sarah, this article is a great help for us. Thank you for pointing out this important piece of information! Life does happen and we should be prepared.

    Reply
      • Yes, citric acid as an additive almost always comes from corn, which means it is a) a form of MSG, and b) probably GMO.

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          • What about organic products that have citric acid? And how can one know if it is from corn or fruit?

            I tried to buy a can of diced tomatoes yesterday and both the organic and non-organic had citric acid. I had read that citric acid was bad, though I couldn’t remember exactly WHY… but when I found it in the organic tomatoes, I was at a bit of a loss.

            Thanks for this post… The information will definitely come in handy!

  2. Okay, I get into moods sometimes. When I see people eating stuff from the store I have an almost uncontrollable urge to smack that food out of their hands. The shock factor itself would be funny. The reasoning might be lost though. They would just see crazy lady. So thank you for the reminders of every day. Have I ever done that? No. I sure have day dreamed about it on more than one occasion!

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  3. This is very good to know to choose the fat used over some other things! I would of picked the Mi-Del cookies because of the organic flours and better sugar. I usually overlook the Back to Nature brand all together because it’s owned by Kraft and just head straight to the other brands. Now I’ll have to start looking at all the different brands. You never know what you’ll find!

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  4. Back to Nature won’t work with the Feingold Association to get their products approved, so I am suspicious of what could be the reason they don’t want to disclose their information. It’s a shame, because their products seem pretty decent.

    Reply
    • Feingold approves a lot of products that are just garbage (Boar’s Head deli meats?). I suspect they get payola from companies whom they endorse, and Back to Nature hasn’t the funds.

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  5. This is great advice, once again. Unfermented soy and canola oil should be avoided at all costs. GMOs should also be avoided. Unfortunately, some companies, like Whole Foods, add canola or soy to almost all their products.

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  6. Anytime I read canola or soy in the ingredients, I put the item back on the shelf. I read ingredients on everything I buy now as one day I brought home a can of albacore tuna in water and when I went to open it I glanced at the ingreadients and saw the water was ‘soy broth.’ I couldn’t believe it! Soy is in everthing and it isn’t mentioned on the front label. I don’t remember the brand of tuna but there are plenty out there without soy. Just be sure to read labels on everything. One month the label might say palm oil and the next month it may change to canola. I call companies and thank them for not using canola or soy whenever I can.

    Reply
      • Me either Sarah! And just today at our local healthfood store i saw canola oil in their homemade salad dressings that everyone buys thinking its much better because they make it there. I told my sister not to buy their dressings but make it herself. I use to cook with canola oil because I thought it was better before I knew “better” LOL

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  7. After months of abstinence, I recently have been buying crackers again – precisely bcs they use palm oil. Wonder if the word is getting out to the food manufacturers – that transfats, high omega 6, rancid, oxidizing oils are not good for health. I wish restaurants would start tuning in.

    Reply
  8. Great Advice!! I must admit I sometimes treat myself to BtoN “oreos. I’m going to once over that label. Do you know if “palm oil” always indicates palm oil that is not fractionated? I haven’t been able to find a clear answer on this.
    Mishelle\’s last post: Game Plan 3/25

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  9. thanks for the practical side by side analysis. I find it so helpful as I continue my new journey of moving away from processed foods. it’s like learning a new language & these types of ‘how to’ articles really take me from theory to reality. thanks!!!!

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  10. “In addition, go for the brand that clearly has no GMOs in it and that would be the Back to Nature brand as well.” I thought GMO Wheat was already out, or is that up next?

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  11. excellent post, sarah! i find that people struggle with label reading and unfortunately it is a much needed skill in these uncertain times. yes, it is always best to make your own but we need to acknowledge that folks are just not going to do that 100% of the time – no one really can. thanks for a clear, well written illustration of how to discern and make an informed decision. as always, you deliver!
    emily duff\’s last post: The Art and Joy of the Sandwich

    Reply
  12. My understanding is that the problem with palm oil (or cottonseed oil) is that since a palm tree may not be categorized as “food” it may be treated with pesticides that are not food grade. Am I mistaken? Canola is definitely “out” due to the GMO component. Since fat cells store chemical pesticides, I try to favor organic fats over carbs. Tough subject! Thanks for bringing it up.

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  13. Bret Shulman via Facebook March 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve been in this exact situation many times trying to provide a “healthier” version of crap-snacks the rest of the class gets to send to my son’s nursery school (Nothing home-made allowed due to nut-free status!!!!). I’ve done the same trading off and rationalizing. It’s good to see I’m not alone. Thanks!

    Reply
  14. Thank you for this post! It was really helpful to me. I am a frazzled mommy raising little ones and sometimes don’t have time to bake from scratch, so this was an enlightening lesson.

    P.S. I bought organic milk from the store today for the first time in over a year. My little kids don’t like the taste of “spring” milk from the farm (and I agree it does taste different this time of year). I really cringed to buy it and almost just wanted to give them water for a while instead, but they are begging for milk. What to do?

    Reply
  15. I just noticed Bugles are made with coconut oil…though they are probably made with GMO corn too. Still, that’s better than most chips.

    Reply
    • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Wow! Now that is progress! I still wouldn’t buy them for the non-organic corn, but things are making headway a bit at a time.

      Hopefully, food manufacturers read blogs like this one and realize that Moms like me aren’t going to buy their garbage so they might as well fix it.
      Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist\’s last post: A Tale of Two Cookies

      Reply
  16. As a general rule, if buying a manufactured product I have found “back to nature” to be a good choice. Even better from organic grains, freshly milled, properly prepared, etc., but sometimes a made product is very helpful! I also go by how I feel after eating the product to know if there are hidden ingredients. I have traced back a soy or canola “reaction” (after being free of these ingredients I can tell when I have even a trace of them!) to pan sprays. So little of the pan spray is used for a given product that it is not required to be put on the label. Overall, I have not had any problems with their products.

    Reply
  17. Great post! Followed by an ad for a snickers Easter egg. 1. It’s okay to accept their advertising even if you don’t believe in their products? 2. Funny that they would even choose to place an ad on your site.

    Reply
  18. I would enjoy other posts on comparative shopping. I’m one of those that spends a long time shopping because I’m doing so much label-reading. Sometimes I’m not sure which is the lesser evil.

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  19. Great post. I’ve been looking for suggestions for a good midmorning snack, so please everyone let me know your thoughts. I was a big fan of Luna bars until my daughter put my onto your site. They contain soy protein and soy lecithin – although they use palm kernel oil. So on the whole does the soy outweigh the good palm kernel oil?

    Reply
    • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Soy is bad bad bad. If you eat soy, it’s a thyroid problem waiting to happen for most people (small amounts of fermented soy ok for those without thyroid issues). Stay away from it even if the luna bar has palm oil in it.

      Hashimoto’s is at epidemic levels in women. Soy in our food everywhere is a big reason why (although there are other contributing factors as well .. fluoridated water etc etc).
      Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist\’s last post: A Tale of Two Cookies

      Reply
  20. Sarah,
    I was wondering if you could share other cookie recipes with us. I love chocolate chip cookies but have not had much success with making them healthy.

    Reply
      • Sarah – I can understand why you don’t want to use chocolate – but for those of us who are new in this journey to healthier eating it is nice to have some recipes that although they won’t meet your high standards are still a step in the right direction for the rest of us.

        Reply
  21. Hey Sarah! Between you and Dr. Mercola Ive learned soooo much about nutrition…and the sun lol Im a bartender and I always share everything I learn with all my coworkers and managers and bosses. Ive been in many arguments with my boss because we wont vaccinate our kids and he thinks we’re ridiculous, but thats another topic. One of my coworkers will always run food by me that she brought into eat and have me read the ingredients list and tell her if its ok to eat…I havent said yes yet. One day awhile ago there was palm oil in something and I told her that was good. A couple hours later my manager brought me a print out of all kinds of information about how they get the palm oil and its ruining alot of animals habitats. He went to something in North or South Carolina last year that was like a tiger retreat. You get to pet them and learn all about them. Ever heard of the place? Well while he was there thats when he learned about the dangers of getting Palm Oil and said once he learned that he wont eat anything with Palm Oil in it. Do you know anything about any of this?

    Reply
  22. I’ve eaten both of those cookie brands many times and I can say that the Back To nature brand is superior to Mi-Del. Mi-Del also makes a gluten-free version of finger snaps that is loaded with sugar and additives.

    Reply
    • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Peanut oil is ok for a light saute (like olive oil). But, you can’t really fry in it as it would be too damaging. I personally would not buy chips fried in peanut oil or olive oil like some of the brands on the market. Lard, tallow, ghee, coconut oil would be best for this.
      Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist\’s last post: A Tale of Two Cookies

      Reply
  23. Having celiac means that both of the above are disqualified for me, so on the rare occasion that I buy a package of GF cookies, I choose Pamela’s brand, specifically because of the palm oil. I’m very glad this brand exists!

    Reply
  24. Is there a list somewhere out there that we could print and carry in our wallets of imgredients to avoid while reading labels? And maybe in order of importance? It would make shopping easy. Thanks for this! I learned something new today.
    Sonya\’s last post: Call For Healing Recorded Calls

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  25. Any sugar is poison. Even the so called natural sweeteners are bad for you.
    I’ve been blessed; I’ve lost 155 pounds in the last 24 months and my taste has changed. I no longer like sweet foods or drink. I am not alone in this. I have found that once you put out the poisons like wheat and sweeteners you no longer need or like them.

    What FREEDOM this gives you.
    Dan Moffett\’s last post: Before and Now

    Reply
    • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      I don’t buy this argument as it does not align with our basic physiology as humans. We have tastebuds that detect sweet. They wouldn’t be there is sweet wasn’t something that was good for us in moderation and in whole, unrefined form.

      There is nothing wrong with homemade treats made with whole ingredients and in a pinch a cookie from the store made with a decent fat and no GMOs.
      Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist\’s last post: A Tale of Two Cookies

      Reply
  26. Such a great post, I do this all the time! I think I’ve found the prefect delicious snack food that I buy every now and then as a treat..I can’t fault it with my knowledge but maybe you can! I found these organic beetroot chips.. 3 ingredients listed.. Organic beetroot, organic palm oil, sea salt.

    Thoughts? Cos wow theyre amazing :)

    Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
      Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist March 27, 2012 at 6:44 pm

      Fantastic! Brand please? Just go easy on them … don’t overdo on anything fried even if a good oil is used as it will still have some acrylamide (carcinogen) that forms when any starch is cooked at high temp.

      Reply
  27. I’ve never posted on a blog before, and just want to say this is one blog site I really appreciate! One note I’d like to pass along, that I didn’t see any comments about, is that for a while now manufacturers have been allowed to call white flour “wheat flour” on their labels…so unless it’s actually labeled as “whole wheat” or “whole grain”, it’s not, from my understanding…one more ingredient to scrutinize, unfortunately!

    Reply
  28. Pingback: A Tale of Two Cookies | CookingPlanet

  29. Hi Sarah, I just “found” some egg whites in the frig. They have been in there for 3 weeks or so. Would they still be okay for making macaroons? They are farm fresh eggs. Our refrigerator is really cold. It often freezes milk or other things in there. Thank you!

    Reply
  30. Sarah – thank you for doing these comparisons – it is much needed – please keep doing this with products so we finally get the “bottom line” on products we just have to buy once in a while. I sure wish there was a company out there that we could depend on for really good ingredients but guess that’s a pipe dream.

    Reply
  31. Also…..can you do more articles on GMO’s – explaining what they are, where you can get them, why they are in our food, etc. etc…..

    Reply
  32. Yes, I would have avoided the cookies with canola oil and soy lecithin because there is more than a 90% likelihood that they are genetically modified/engineered. More than 75 to 95% of corn, soy, cottonseed, sugar beets and canola are GMOs. Right now, LabelGMOs.org is gathering signatures to get the Initiative CALIFORNIA RIGHT TO KNOW GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOOD ACT on Nov ballot. Whether you believe GMOs are good or bad to eat, we have a right to know what is in our food. By labeling GMOs we could be better consumers. To learn more about GMOs google Jeffrey Smith of Responsible Technology, Organic Consumer Association or watch the free documentary The Future of Food on youtube.

    Reply
  33. I like the California Almonds from Back to Nature as a compromise as well. They are soaked in sea salt before roasting, with no added oils. Of course they are going to be irradiated and lose a lot of good stuff in the roasting process, but they are inexpensive, and sometimes sourcing good raw almonds, soaking and toasting them myself is just too daunting.

    Reply
  34. Sarah, I think you should do a post on healthy real food options for kids lunches. I am a single mom and we qualify for free lunch at school so my children get the garbage that’s served for free. I try really hard to make every extra effort at home like raw milk, little sugar, keifer, farm eggs, stocks, sourdough, lacto ferments etc. When it comes to sending something with them for snack or lunch at school I feel so limited. I’d love some great ideas.

    Reply
  35. While I totally agree with you for the most part, and I too read labels like crazy, I have to admit I freak out a bit when I see Palm oil being used. This is why…

    About 88 percent of global palm oil production was in Malaysia and Indonesia in 2007. Although much of this production took place on land long ago established for agriculture, some of it occurred in areas that were newly cleared specifically for oil palm cultivation.

    The most threatened ecosystems by expansion of oil palm plantations are rainforests and peatlands. Peatlands are swampy areas where the soils are made of peat – decomposed vegetation. Peat acts as a sponge, soaking up water and helping prevent floods. It also stores large amounts of carbon.

    When peatlands are drained, the stored carbon reacts with air to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing concentrations of the greenhouse gas. The dry peat then becomes highly flammable, increasing the risk of large-scale fires when plantation developers use fire to clear land and burn agricultural waste.

    Greenhouse gas emissions also result when rainforest is cleared for oil palm plantations. Worse, oil palm plantations support very low levels of biodiversity, meaning most of the plants and animals once found in the rainforest must either move or perish. Oil palm plantations are not good for wildlife and endangered species like the orangutan, the Sumatran rhino, the pygmy elephant of Borneo, and the Sumatran tiger are all threatened by development for oil palm.

    What are your thoughts? Thanks :)

    Reply
  36. Thank you Sarah! I really enjoyed this post. Although I’m a lot healthier–inside and out–because of my conscious decision to eat healthier and more traditional foods, there’s a part of myself that seems to get paranoid every once and a while: “I can’t eat at that restaurant!” or “I wonder if those granola bars will cause a reaction?” I feel it’s so important to emphasize that we all have to do the best we can in the moment, and your tips on which brand of cookie to choose are awesome. I think it’s a great idea to choose a type of food you already make at home and that your family is familiar with. That way, they won’t see them as an unhealthy treat and feel deprived when you’re not buying them. Again Sarah, great info and looking forward to incorporating these tips and tricks with my family.

    Reply
  37. Is it correct that back to nature does not use GMO products? My husband recently bought these cookies and we were excited to find a healthy cookie that actually tastes good! Then he came across an article tonight that warned that back to nature believes that GMOs are not bad for you and uses them regularly…?

    Reply
  38. Since when is Palm Oil healthy, Several studies have linked palm oil to cardiovascular diseases, other than that because of the palm oil industry many forests in Asia and Africa have been destroyed and is causing the extinction of many species such as elephants, tigers and rhinos.

    Reply

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