Those Relentless Girl Scouts!

>> Saturday, January 23, 2010

A mound of Girl Scout cookies, this mound cont...Image via Wikipedia
Once 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

Girl Scouts of the United States of AmericaImage 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)

Grande Valley Cir & Sudbury Dr, Cary, NC 27513...
My heart feels heavy just thinking about trans fat. Listen to the words of Michael Pollan, and use your dollars to vote. Don't buy cookies from the Girl Scouts this year - or any year until they return to a recipe that is at least using ingredients that are not so highly processed as they do now. This doesn't mean you should skip out on supporting the scouts, of course; offer a straight-up donation to their cause in the amount of cookies you would normally have bought. After all, it isn't the girls' fault that they are selling these severely unhealthy cookies, and it is a good thing to encourage them to get outside and be involved in the healthy activities found there.  Then, perhaps when found with a mountain of unwanted cookies on their hands, the Girl Scouts of America will really "work diligently" to address these important health-related issues.

This "Girl Scout Cookie Season" make the choice for good health.

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Local Nourishment,  January 23, 2010 at 6:07 PM  

When our children were very small and I was restricting the sugar coming into the house (before we were aware of the kinds of fats and their repercussions) I would give the cost of a box of cookies as a donation, but let them keep the cookies. We now channel our giving to other sources but we still aren't tempted to buy those cookies. My 9 year old daughter came home from a friend's house where she had eaten one. She said she thought they'd be a lot better, but they had almost no taste. She showed her friend the ingredients label and they had a good laugh about trying to pronounce the "foods."

Psychic Lunch,  January 25, 2010 at 9:52 AM  

It's SO inspiring to see or learn about children who know to choose REAL FOOD instead of the garbage!

Sarah,  January 27, 2010 at 6:48 AM  

*sighs*  But they're so darned good!  Of course, not only are they terrible for you, but they're terribly addicting. I can't NOT eat the whole box if I get one.  Luckily I haven't been offered them in a few years. 

Maybe the next time I try one, I'll think like Local Nourishment's daughter did. How encouraging!

Great post!

Anonymous,  January 27, 2010 at 10:10 AM  

The dreaded girl scout cookie season! My daughter is a girl scout, and it is so hard to know what to do. That's how they earn their money for all of their activities, but I won't even let my family buy a box (although my husband is hoping I'll change my mind...). I do wish they would do something else for a fundraiser, but for now I'm kind of cheap.
And, you are nice to suggest a donation, but most people want something-- even a box of junky cookies-- in exchange.

Psychic Lunch,  January 27, 2010 at 11:34 AM  

It's too bad the taste of food isn't associated with health quality! I will definitely agree that the cookies taste good - when I ate them, I always loved the coconut ones (a precursor to my now ultimate coconut addiction, perhaps?) And yes... the tiny little size of the things makes them easier to eat than if they were otherwise. How many people can refuse a cookie or two when a box is sitting open on the counter?

I wonder just how much $$ is made from the sale of the cookies. It must be massive, based on how many handfuls of boxes I tend to see people walking around with.

Local Nourishment,  March 1, 2010 at 8:17 AM  

So, some Girl Scout cookies have been recalled because they smell foul. Apparently, some of the oils have "broken down" (this to me, combined with the odor indicates rancidity) but, have no fear, they are still (according to the article) "safe to eat."

Yeah. Real Safe.

Psychic Lunch,  March 1, 2010 at 1:42 PM  

Wow, thanks for calling that to my attention! Things like this - let alone a breakout of some disease as we've seen in other food-manufacturing disasters - should really be convincing people not to buy processed foods. When something goes wrong, it can really go wrong.

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About Psychic Lunch

Psychic Lunch was founded in 2009 by a nerd and father who wants people to be healthy. The information on this site is researched, but should be considered opinion; that is, you should always do your own research and come to your own conclusions about what is and what is not healthy. Products endorsed on this site are actually believed in and used by the author.


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