We’re in the thick of Girl Scout cookie season and the boxes are rolling in. Are you looking at the nutrition labels and having buyer’s remorse? Well, don’t panic. Girl Scout cookies are treats; they’re not meant to be healthy staples in your diet.
“You’re not hitting any nutritional home runs with Girl Scout cookies,” says Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietitian in New York City. But if you’re getting most of your nutrients from healthy foods like veggies, fruits, nuts, beans, whole grains and lean proteins — and not cookies, you’re in good shape.
Besides, Girl Scout cookies do have a few things going for them. First of all, by buying them, you’re supporting girls (and getting some serious brownie points). Secondly, Girl Scout cookies are not following the super-size portion trend. “They've been getting smaller over time,” says Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor. “So, one or two of your personal favorites can be a smart, guilt-free indulgence."
Martha McKittrick, a registered dietitian in New York City, points out that the Girl Scout cookie bakers have added some whole grains to a couple of the recipes (albeit in very small amounts), which is an improvement. Some of the cookies also contain nuts, which offer protein and healthy fat.
They've been getting smaller over time. So, one or two of your personal favorites can be a smart, guilt-free indulgence.
Cassetty suggests keeping an eye out for reasonable amounts of added sugar too. For a serving of cookies, she says that’s 7 grams. “On a per serving basis, most Girl Scout cookies don’t make the cut,” she admits. “But if you eat just one or two of the gluten-free Trios, it’s not a terrible choice — assuming cookies are not part of your daily diet!”
The truth is you're getting a lot of refined carbohydrates, sugar and variable amounts of fat in your Girl Scout cookies. Many of them are particularly high in saturated fat — with most top sellers having more than 20 percent of the daily value.
Instead of focusing on individual nutrients, Cassetty says your best bet is to hone in on the serving size, which is standardized to the nearest ounce. That means the serving size for some cookies, like Shortbreads (aka Trefoils®), which are thin and light, have more cookies per ounce than a denser choice like the Caramel Delites® (aka Samoas®).
Cassetty’s advice is to stick with a lighter cookie and eat just one or two, even if the serving size suggests it’s okay to have four or five. “A smaller dessert is always better than a bigger one,” she says. “Plus, satisfaction declines after the first few bites.” So it’s a strategy that pays off in several ways! Additionally, breaking up a serving for kids is a terrific way to teach them balance and moderation for indulgence foods.
Below is our breakdown of 2018 Girl Scout cookies from better to worst. We’ve sized up the nutrition labels* with a strong focus on calories, fat and sugar content per serving.
1. Shortbread aka Trefoils®
Coming in first place, these simple shortbread-style cookies contain only 4 grams of sugar per serving (and a serving is 4 to 5 cookies, depending on which licensed baker baked the cookies). They’re also pretty low in calories compared to most of the other cookies. No wonder they’re a top-five best-seller!
These chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal cookies contain nutrition-positive ingredients like whole-grain oats and peanut butter, so they’re rolling in at No. 2. They’re also gluten-free, which makes them a good choice for anyone following a gluten-free diet.
3. Do-si-dos® aka Peanut Butter Sandwich
These best-selling cookies also contain both oats and peanut butter. The Peanut Butter Sandwich features peanut butter as its first ingredient, contains an extra gram of dietary fiber, and has only 6 grams of sugar compared to the Do-si-dos®, which contain 11 grams of sugar per serving.
The buttery Toffee-tastic™ cookies are made with rice flour instead of wheat flour, so this is another gluten-free choice that’s fairly low in calories and sugar.
5. Peanut Butter Patties® aka Tagalongs®
While these vegan-friendly top-sellers do contain peanut butter, they don’t contain any whole grains, so we’ve bumped them down. The sugar and calorie counts aren’t too bad, but the Tagalongs® contain partially hydrogenated oil, which can increase your risk of heart disease and may even increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, says Cassetty.
6. Savannah Smiles®
While these zesty lemon wedges do contain a little lemon juice, they also contain four different types of sugar, which isn’t really anything to smile about. Their calorie count and sugar content lands them in the middle of the list.
The name for these tangy vegan-friendly cookies is a little misleading, considering that lemon juice does not appear on the ingredients list. They contain a little less sugar than the lemony Savannah Smiles®, but more calories from fat.
These vegan shortbread-style cookies are dipped in chocolate and embossed with the words for “thank you” in different languages. However, they’re a little higher in calories and sugar than many of the other cookies, so you may want to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to these.
9. Thin Mints®
According to a survey by the neighborhood social networking site, Nextdoor, 38 percent of the 6,500 respondents pledged their loyalty to Team Thin Mint. Sadly, one of the Girl Scouts’ most classic and best-selling cookies is also one of the highest in calories and sugar. The upside is that there are four vegan-friendly chocolate mint wafers in a serving, so if they’re a favorite, you can limit yourself to just one. Or maybe two. (Not a whole sleeve!)
10. Caramel Delites® aka Samoas®
Devotees of the Caramel Delites® (aka Samoas®) may be disappointed — though probably not surprised — to learn that these best-selling caramel, chocolate and coconut cookies contain a lot of sugar, fat and calories. What’s worse: Samoas® contain partially hydrogenated oils too.
11. Girl Scout S'mores™
There are two different versions of this newer Girl Scout cookie. The version made by Little Brownie Bakers is a graham cookie sandwich with marshmallow and chocolate filling. The one made by ABC Bakers is a single graham cookie coated in icing and dipped in chocolate. “They both have a lot of calories, fat and sugar,” says McKittrick. And the ABC Bakers’ version contains the most calories and sugar per serving of all the cookies that the Girl Scouts are selling this year.
* The Girls Scouts license two different bakers to make the cookies, so some of the ingredients and nutrition details vary. Be sure to check the labels on your cookie packages for accurate nutrition information.
WANT TO EAT BETTER? TRY THESE SIMPLE SWAPS:
- 15 Ways to Make Convenience Foods Healthier
- 8 Small Diet Swaps that Add Up to Huge Health Payoffs
- Research Says This One Trick Will Help You Eat More Veggies
- 5 Foolproof Principles for Cleaning Up Your Diet