What’s in That Holiday Cookie? A Nutritionist Breaks It Down

By Jackie Cartier
December 6, 2017

christmascookie.jpgTis’ the season to be confronted with plates of holiday cookies. While hard to resist, we’ve got some new research that might make passing up that plate a bit easier, along with ideas on healthier ways to indulge.

We looked at some common store-bought cookies and homemade versions with Leah Kleinschrodt, a Nutritional Weight & Wellness dietician. Many ingredients stood out to her as immediate warning signs, while others were a welcome addition.

Let’s dig into Leah’s observations and see which way the cookie crumbles …

  • Artificial Colors – You’ve likely seen these ready to bake cookies, available for every single holiday. The artificial colors, specifically Yellow 5, Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 6, were the first to catch Leah’s eye, saying “When I see a list of artificial colors the first concern I think of is that synthetic dyes have been linked to allergic reactions, exacerbating asthma, and behavioral problems in children with or without ADD/ADHD.”* No, thank you, the holidays are already hectic enough without adding those problems on top of it.

What are food dyes used for and where do they come from? Companies like to use synthetic food coloring because it is cheaper, more stable, and brighter than most natural colors.* Many are derived from petroleum, and some of the most widely used food dyes (particularly Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, which make up 90% of the dyes used in foods in the US) contain benzidine, a chemical carcinogen that doesn’t occur in nature.*

  • Refined Oils – The partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil were other red flags that Leah noticed in the ready-to-bake cookies – and many homemade cookies made with margarine or Crisco for that matter. According to Leah, “These are harmful man-made fats that we don’t want anywhere near our cells and brains; they cause our brains to not work well and result in inflammation throughout the body that shows up differently for everyone. For me inflammation shows up as knee pain, but for many clients I’ve seen trans fats result in digestive distress, aches and pains in their back, brain fog, all sorts of stuff.” Again, we want to enjoy the holiday season, not ache throughout it. “You’re already running on turbo mode and in order to be able to get up and go, and check things off your to do list you need a healthy body and a clear working brain.” added Leah.
  • Sugars – You probably expected to see this on the list of ingredients and for good reason. Take this holiday Oreo cookie for example, two cookies comes in at a whopping 13 grams of sugar (and that’s if you stop at two cookies). Keep in mind, that 13 grams (3 /14 teaspoons) is from added sugar only, to which you also need to take in account that the cookie carbohydrates also turn into sugar in your body. That’s another 5 ¼ teaspoon of sugar, yikes! While we can’t calculate how much sugar is in your homemade cookies, it’s likely just as much, potentially more. Think of the different types of sugar you remember from past recipes, one recipe could contain white sugar, brown sugar, flour (turns into sugar), molasses and a Hershey kiss to (literally) top it all off.
  • Gluten-Free – You have to go back to the basics and look at what they’ve used to make the cookies gluten free. Maybe it’s not flour, but it’s potato starch or rice flour that’s still a refined carb that will spike the blood sugar. And remember Leah cautions, “Gluten free doesn’t mean sugar-free!”

Recipie_Website_Oatmeal-Almond-Balls.jpgAre Healthier Cookies Possible?

Yes! You can make “upgrades” as Leah calls them. Try cutting the amount of sugar in half, which is probably more than sweet enough or play around with using almond flour or coconut flour in place of carbohydrate-heavy regular refined flour. Almond flour and coconut flour have more fat, which will help the cookie eaters feel more satisfied and less likely to eat the whole plate.  

Here’s a great tasty, option from Leah is to make our oatmeal almond balls for something sweet and a perfect balance of carbs, fat and protein.

Eat the Cookie … With These Tips in Mind

We’re not total a total Scrooge when it comes to holiday fare. So if you are going to indulge, keep this in mind – make it count. Leah suggests thinking this through ahead of time. Would you be sad to miss out on Grandma’s once a year brown sugar cookies? Than have one! Just don’t make it a habit to think every holiday party means cookies are okay.

For more ideas on how to have a healthy holiday season, check out these resources.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23590704
  2. https://cspinet.org/sites/default/files/attachment/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf
  3. https://www.thepaleomom.com/food-dyes-whats-big-deal/



About the author

Jackie Cartier is Content Strategy Manager for Nutritional Weight & Wellness. She was once a client, seeking natural solutions to her achy runner knees and hormonal imbalances. From then she was hooked and eventually ended up on their team, spreading the real food message on the blog and through social media. 

View all posts by Jackie Cartier

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