>> Saturday, January 23, 2010
Image via WikipediaOnce upon a time, young scouts, wanting to help raise money for their troop, baked cookies on their own or with the supervision of their mothers, using simple ingredients like butter, milk, eggs, sugar, and flour. And so it went for almost twenty years until somehow ... something went wrong. In this real-life story, around 1935 the Girl Scout organization began to license the creation of these cookies to manufacturers and thus began the subtle shifting of ingredients from mainly tolerable snack-quality ones to those that are more economical than healthy. Now their recipe has more unpronounceable words than is easy to count.
Given the amount of unhealthy ingredients, one really should not need to argue the case against consuming these cookies, but common experience shows widespread sales throughout malls, skyways, churches, and office buildings and proves that most people don't know or don't care enough to avoid them. While one could make a case against the onslaught of unhealthiness from high fructose corn syrup or soybean oil to artificial colors and flavors or more, let's start with the most obvious and incredible ingredient: trans fat.
Before going any farther, let's look to see what the Girl Scouts organization has to say about trans fats, which is one of the worst ingredients included in their cookies:
Q: What about partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats)?
A: For several decades, it was thought that partially hydrogenated oils—sometimes referred to as trans fats—were a healthier food choice compared with saturated fats. In recent years, data has emerged suggesting that, in fact, trans fats are not a healthier choice than saturated fats. Girl Scouts of the USA 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.
Girl Scouts of the USA has worked diligently with our bakers over the past several years to address the issue of trans fats. We began listing the amount of trans fats one full year before FDA requirements went into effect. It is important to remember that Girl Scout Cookies are a snack food and are meant to be consumed in limited quantities within the context of a balanced diet. So that consumers can make an informed choice, the ingredients and nutritional profile of each variety are clearly listed on both the cookie box and the cookie order form, and also on the Web at www.girlscoutcookies.org/nutrition_info_2009_2010.asp.
Image via Wikipedia
What you see here is a corporate- or legal-speak as a kind of justification for still using ingredients that have been proven to be deadly - either for the sake of profit or just plain laziness. And it is either hypocritical of the organization or an outright lie to try to say they have "worked diligently" to address the issue. Suspicions about trans fats being unhealthy began forming in the late 1970's and it was widely known and proven in the 1990's. Even assuming that "working diligently" meant waiting until it was proven beyond a doubt, by this writing is has now been over a decade since this was known. How long does it take to reformulate a production recipe, especially considering that they have the original formula on their very website? They claim to "meet or exceed" the guidelines set by the FDA, and while this meets what has been passed into law, it hardly meets the the spirit they imply, considering that the AHA states that in 2002 the federal government agreed with researchers that there is likely no safe level of trans fat and that people should eat as little as possible.
Trans fat is created by starting with an oil that is unhealthy to begin with - since often the oils that are used are corn, soy, cottonseed, or canola; these are already rancid before they are finished processing and need to be deodorized and bleached before the public would consider even tasting them. This oil is then superheated to temperatures of up to 410 degrees Fahrenheit while in the presence of a metal catalyst - which for economical reasons is usually nickel (the 2008 allergen of the year!) How could anyone - corporate or otherwise - mistake this process for something that's healthy?
Even a small amount can do big damage. Walter Willet, a Harvard University doctor on the forefront of the charge against trans fat, and his crew discovered that people who ate a lot of trans fat are 50 percent more likely to develop heart disease. His ongoing Nurses' Health Study of 80,000 women also showed that for every 2 percent increase in the amount of calories from trans fat, a woman's coronary risk will jump 93 percent. Dr Willet said in a 2003 interview with EatingWell magazine, "Probably millions have died prematurely from all the trans fats that have been included in our diet." (From The Trans Fat Solution by Kim Severson, p9)
This "Girl Scout Cookie Season" make the choice for good health.