Addicted to Girl Scout Cookies?

Early spring means one thing to Girl Scouts – it’s cookie season. Millions of boxes of Girl Scout cookies are ordered and consumed by Americans whose mouths and stomachs can’t resist the nostalgic sweetness of Samoas and Thin Mints (or the innocent sales pitch of a budding entrepreneur). Unfortunately, the recession has hit the Girl Scout cookie business hard, forcing the organization to start limiting production to six types of cookies in some parts of the country. The Wall Street Journal reports that the menu scale-back is the “Scouts’ latest way to increase profit.”

Cookie business woes make for fascinating news, but I’m more interested in the Chicago Tribune’s expose on the Girl Scout cookie fat folly. Nutrition Facts Panels on Samoas, Tagalogs, and Thin Mints list “0 grams trans fat” per serving which, the Tribune points out, contradicts the products’ ingredient statements that list hydrogenated oils. We confirmed this finding on the Girl Scouts website, where we also learned that the organization

“is proud that all Girl Scout cookies are “zero trans fat per serving” with the same great taste that has made them one of America’s favorite treats over the years. All varieties contain less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving, which meets or exceeds the FDA guidelines for the “zero trans fat” designation. For the first time this year (2010-2011 season), most varieties of Girl Scout Cookies from Little Brownie Bakers contain 0 hydrogenated oil.”

The Girl Scouts aren’t to blame though, says the Tribune:

“This [trans fat] inconsistency is allowed under rules from the Food and Drug Administration, which mandated labeling on artificial trans fats starting in 2006 but allows products to be marked “0 grams trans fat” as long as the amount falls below 0.5 grams per serving.”

None of this matters until you realize that health and nutrition advisors recommend keeping your trans fat intake as close to zero as possible. That’s usually not on your mind when you’re halfway through a box of Tagalogs. The chances that you know you’ve ingested some trans fats? Very slim if you relied on the Nutrition Facts Panel.

Fortunately, there are efforts to rectify this very major point of misinformation (which, by the way, applies not just to cookies). The science to measure trans fat content is getting more precise and policy advocates are pushing for better nutrition labeling. Until things change, I recommend scanning ingredient statements for oils that are “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated,” or relying on GoodGuide’s ratings to do this for you.

Quick Facts:

  1. If you’ve got to have a Girl Scout cookie, opt for Trefoils or Thin Mints because they have more cookies per serving (it’s a psychological trick, but it works).
  2. If you’re interested in supporting the Girl Scouts in an eco-friendly way, buy the Thanks-A-Lot cookie which is sold without a carton.
  3. The super six cookies are: Samoas (aka Caramel deLites), Tagalongs (aka Peanut Butter Patties), Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, and Lemon Chalet Cremes.
  4. Thin Mints and Samoas are by far the most popular varieties.
  5. Your cookies are made by either ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers, the two commercial bakers licensed by the Girl Scouts.
  6. If you think cookie boxes got smaller last year, you’re not crazy. Both of the Girl Scout cookies bakers reduced certain varieties of cookies by one ounce per box.

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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