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WhoNu? "Healthy Cookie" Claims Crumble Under Scrutiny — an article on the Smart Living Network
April 23, 2012 at 8:00 AMComments: 3 Faves: 1

WhoNu? "Healthy Cookie" Claims Crumble Under Scrutiny

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Just the other day I was visiting a friend at what turned out to be snack-time for her kindergartener. She pulled out a couple of cookies which appeared to be Oreos and because she knows that I am a dietitian, she felt compelled to throw in her disclaimer, "It’s okay, these are healthy cookies."

Healthy COOKIES?

These two words seem diametrically opposed, but could it be true? Could we can eat treats as sweet as Oreos and also get the nutrition we need?

Let me break it down for you:

WhoNu "Healthy Cookie" Claims

“WhoNu?®” cookies are being marketed as being nutrient-rich. Three cookies provide:

  • “as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal”
  • “as much calcium and vitamin D as an 8 oz. glass of milk”
  • “as much vitamin E as two cups of carrot juice”, and
  • “as much vitamin C as a cup of blueberries”.

Factual claims with slight trickery.

As much fiber as oatmeal? The fiber of three cookies provides 3 grams, the amount in a single packet of INSTANT oatmeal though less than ¼ cup of steel-cut oats or ½ cup of Old Fashioned oats - far less oatmeal than fills an American-sized bowl.

As much vitamin E as carrot juice? When it comes to the statement regarding carrot juice, this is very clever marketing. As soon as we hear the words "carrot juice", healthy thoughts immediately come to mind. But is it really a good source of vitamin E?

While certainly healthful, carrot juice only provides 5.48 milligrams vitamin E per 2 cups - less than the amount recommended for a one-year old child! In fact, most adults need 15 milligrams… quite the choice comparison isn’t it?

If you are a fan of carrot juice, don’t fret as 1 cup does provide 700% of our daily vitamin A needs – though if you stick with the original source (carrots) you will get plenty of filling fiber too!

Their website does a terrific job of highlighting the nutritious additions to these cookies and without a deeper investigation I may have easily been fooled myself.

But if you know me at all, I went straight to the ingredient statement. Here the truth was revealed.

What’s REALLY in Those Cookies?

Let’s check out the ingredient list of the vanilla cookies, sandwiched around a delicious cream filling.

WhoNu Cookie Ingredients:

  • Wheat flour
  • Sugar
  • Vegetable oils (canola, palm, palm kernel, and soybean)
  • Polydextrose, Dextrose,
  • Yellow corn flour, natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin, baking soda, salt, monoglycerides, calcium phosphate.

While it’s true that they are made without any partially hydrogenated oils which means they are trans-fat free, neither do Oreos! In fact, their ingredients really do not differ very much from the vanilla Oreos®:

Oreo Cookie Ingredients:

  • Enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid)
  • Sugar
  • High oleic canola oil and/or palm oil and/or canola oil
  • Dextrose
  • High fructose corn syrup, salt, cornstarch, baking soda, natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin.

Basically both brands use a combination of flour, sugar, fake flavors, and preservatives.

YUM! ;)

But WhoNu Cookies Have No Corn Syrup!

Outside of the massive addition of extracted vitamins and minerals (listed in a standalone ingredient statement and clearly NOT from real food ingredients) in the WhoNu? branded cookies, the biggest difference between the two is that Oreos uses both high fructose corn syrup and sugar, whereas WhoNu? sticks with sugar alone. This difference is actually stated right on the front package as the manufacturer is clearly proud of this differentiator.

But does this make them better?

Mmm...Not really.

While high fructose corn syrup has a bad rep, it us actually quite similar to sugar chemically. To be exact - sugar is 50% fructose whereas HFCS averages around 55% fructose. Most of the research out there stating that HFCS is metabolized differently is based on dietary intake of fructose alone, not the blend with glucose.

Limiting Sugar Intake - Regardless of Form

Does this mean that I seek out products made with HFCS? Absolutely not.

To me the sight of HFCS indicates that the manufacturers were aiming for a cheap ingredient which leads me to believe it must be a cheap product and this certainly proves to be true in the countless processed, packaged snacks and condiments out there using this sugar substitute.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that we limit our added sugars (such as the sugar and HFCS added to these cookies) to 10 teaspoons per day. As these cookies average out to about 1 teaspoon per cookie, they could be included. However,  if you were hoping for a bowl of ice-cream or a glass of chocolate milk later, you may want to reconsider.

Be honest -  can you really limit your cookie intake to 2 or 3?

Just 5 cookies will use up HALF of your added sugars for the day and that's if you follow the more lenient World Health Org recommendations! The American Heart Association would prefer we limit our sugars to half what they say - to a mere 5 teaspoons or 20 grams per day!

Make Your Own Nutrient-Rich Cookies

If you are desperately searching for nutrient-rich cookies, you may need to make them yourself! Manufacturers are great at adding in vitamin and mineral extracts, yet ignore the whole food. If you are doing the cooking yourself you can be sure to pack in nutrient-rich ingredients such as ground flax seed, wheat germ, whole grain flour, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, oats, healthy oils, applesauce, and spices chock-full of antioxidants. Besides - homemade treats always taste better anyway, wouldn’t you agree?

Here is a pretty healthy recipe for breakfast cookies from one of my favorite dietitians, Ellie Krieger. She is the host of the Food Network show, “Healthy Appetite“. She blends a palate pleasing mix of whole grain and refined flours with heart-healthy walnuts and oatmeal, all brought together with the sweet taste of brown sugar.

Check out her recipe here.

The Bottom Line?

I am certainly NOT trying to tell you that you should never have a cookie.

In fact, I just whipped up a batch of cookies myself and our entire home smells incredible as a result! What I am saying is be wary of nutrition claims.

If you prefer the taste of Oreos, have an Oreo (though I must admit they do taste quite similar!). If you are up for the slightly higher cost, you will save about 20 calories and 1 gram of fat for every 3 cookies you snack on when you opt for the WhoNu? cookies.

As for the added nutrients? Enjoy a balanced meal before your cookies instead. Nutrients are always better absorbed in their natural state. As one blogger puts in, "WhoNu? cookies are simply Oreos with a multivitamin." Well stated!

If you’re serving these to enjoy a cookie, go ahead – though do so with caution if you or your child are already taking a multivitamin as the overload of vitamins and minerals may do more harm than good. Make this a once in a while treat and please do not serve it for the nutrition, opt for a snack that is truly nutrient-rich such as trail mix with whole grain cereal instead.

Photo Credit: Send me adrift

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3 Comments

  • That breakfast cookie recipe from the website looks really good, Jessica. :)

  • I agree, Bri :)

  • Wow, that claim about the carrot juice is extra tricky! Those darned food marketers can sure be sneaky!

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