I had a client come in the other day and tell me that she had just bought a box of Girl Scout Cookies, and that this had been the one source of sugar in her diet for the last week.
First of all, I’ll have to say that if that’s the only source of sugar in your diet, that’s not doing too bad. That’s certainly better than eating a box of cookies, plus brownies from the kitchen at the office, plus ice cream a few times after dinner, plus this or that….
So I probably shouldn’t have gone off on a rant about Girl Scout Cookies. But I did.
What do I have against Girl Scout Cookies? Well, it’s a small thing. But it’s a big thing.
No, it’s not high fructose corn syrup. I do think that HFCS may be somewhat worse than sugar, but at the end of the day, the difference between 50 grams of sugar and 50 grams of HFCS probably isn’t all that big. Eating a lot of sugar is bad; eating a lot of HFCS is bad. Let’s not pretend that minimizing HFCS and switching to agave nectar or “organic evaporated cane juice” is going to make your cookies healthy, okay?
No, it’s not the fact that Girl Scout Cookies are, well, cookies. I don’t eat cookies very often, but I do think that people can eat cookies “in moderation.” Except my definition of “in moderation” is probably a definition you won’t like. Depending on your genetics and your current level of health (are you free of any inflammatory or auto-immune diseases?) you can probably eat a few cookies about once a week. Maybe twice. And by a few cookies, I mean a few, not the whole box.
But I digress. Here is what I despise about Girl Scout Cookies: many of them are made with partially hydrogenated soybean oil, a.k.a. trans fats.
Trans fats are universally (and correctly) regarded by nutritionists, doctors, and scientists as being very unhealthy, even in very small doses.
Even as little as 1 or 2 grams can be harmful, leading to inflammation and an increased risk of heart disease.
Now, you may accuse me of being a curmudgeon. Why can’t you have your two (or ten) boxes of Thin Mints every year? What’s wrong with a little trans fat in moderation? Who cares?
Well, I care. Because the Institute of Medicine has (rightly) concluded that there is “no safe level for consumption” of trans fats. They should be minimized and avoided as much as possible, not eaten “in moderation.”
Saying “it’s okay to eat trans fat in moderation” is like saying “it’s okay to eat lead in moderation” or “it’s okay to have unprotected sex with strangers in moderation.” No, it’s not. It really isn’t. I’m sorry if that makes me seem like a curmudgeon. Actually, I’m not sorry.
In fact, trans fats are so bad that the FDA has finally gotten its act together and proposed that they no longer be considered “Generally Recognized As Safe.” If that proposal passes (perhaps later this year), manufacturers would have to try to prove that trans fats are safe, which is pretty much impossible given the weight of the scientific evidence.
Remember, folks: this is the same FDA that came up with a loophole to allow manufacturers to label their products as containing “Zero grams trans fat” if they contained less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Given the fact that you might eat two or three or five servings throughout the day, you could easily eat around 1.5 or 2 grams of trans fats just by eating stuff that is labeled “Zero grams trans fat.” That is breathtakingly dishonest and misleading, and the FDA did this because it was under a lot of political pressure from wealthy manufacturers.
(By the way, a lot of Girl Scout Cookies are labeled “Zero grams trans fat” because of this loophole, so don’t be fooled. If it contains partially hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fat.)
Trans fats are so bad for you that for once, the FDA seems willing to anger a lot of multi-billion dollar corporations to ban them.
There is no justification for using trans fats in food products, other than the fact that they are cheap.
For what it’s worth, I’d gladly pay a small premium — maybe 20 or 50 cents — to get a box of Girl Scout Cookies that didn’t contain partially hydrogenated oils. That still wouldn’t make the cookies healthy, but at least it would go some way toward minimizing the damage you get from ingesting refined sugar, flour, chemical preservatives, along with a whopping dose of trans fat.
So go ahead, eat your cookies “in moderation.” But please don’t eat trans fats “in moderation.”
And until Girl Scouts of America pressures their vendors to stop putting partially hydrogenated oils in their cookies, I won’t be supporting them through the sale of their poison boxes. I mean, cookies.