I was somewhat reluctant to delve into America’s favorite overpriced cookies, because it always seems to be an off limits topic. The Girl Scouts of America has become a part of so many young girl’s lives. I, myself, was a brownie and my mom was cookie mom. The organization’s mission is to build girls confidence and character among other things. For these reasons, it seems all of a Girl Scout’s efforts must be supported, including the door to door sale of cookies. But just because the Girl Scouts do some things right, should we turn a blind eye to their biggest fundraiser, Girl Scout cookies?
The Girl Scouts of America organization thinks so. The Girl Scout cookie website (yes, there is a website just for the cookies) boldly claims:
There’s more to Girl Scout Cookies than what’s in the box. When a Girl Scout sells you cookies, she’s building a lifetime of skills and confidence.
That’s great, but what is also in the box is a processed cookie with harmful ingredients that seems like it should’ve made the list of processed foods to avoid. I focused on the ingredients of the top 5 flavors, from both ABC and Little Brownie Bakers, the makers of Girl Scout cookies. Those best selling cookies are:
- Thin Mints
- Samoas (Caramel deLites)
- Do-Si-Dos (Peanut Butter Sandwiches)
- Tagalongs (Peanut Butter Patties)
- Trefoils (Shortbread Cookies)
Wrapped up in that box of nostalgia I found carcinogens, GMOs, and more. Here are the 7 most concerning ingredients.
Table of Contents
High Fructose Corn Syrup
The dangers of HFCS have been talked about in depth over the years. It is a cheaper alternative to cane sugar as a result of government subsidies for corn crops. In 2014, 93% of corn grown was genetically modified. Even “when used in moderation, it is a major cause of heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, liver failure, tooth decay and more” states Mark Hyman, MD. He goes on to point out an added danger of HFCS, mercury. Some samples of high fructose corn syrup contained toxic levels of mercury due to chlor-alkali products used in the manufacturing process.
If you see “sugar” on the label, it’s important to know it’s not the same white table sugar in your pantry. On an ingredient list, this indicates the sugar is from sugar beets. Almost 95% of the sugar beets grown are genetically engineered. These GMO beets are Round Up Ready crops, which means they are resistant to the chemical herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up. Why is this a concern? Round Up Ready crops can be sprayed with high levels of glyphosate, a chemical the WHO just labeled days ago as probably carcinogenic to humans.
Depending on which bakery made your cookies, you will find either vegetable shortening or vegetable oil in the ingredients. These can contain a blend of palm oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil. Palm oil is destroying the rainforest, and despite the pretty RSPO logo on each box of girl scout cookies stating their palm oil is sustainable, it’s still wreaking havoc. Animals are losing their habitat and starving from the depletion of the rainforest at the hands of RSPO certified plantations.
Aside from the ecological and environmental impact of palm oil, there are also health risks. Girl Scout cookies contain partially hydrogenated oils. These oils are the main dietary source of trans fats, which the FDA warns against. Trans fats raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
Soybean and cottonseed oil are from genetically modified sources. As mentioned earlier in the article, glyphosate, the herbicide heavily sprayed on GMO crops is now a suspected carcinogen. GMOs are also linked to obesity. In an international study, rats fed GMO diets grew fatter than the control group fed only non GMO foods. Salmon fed GMOs experienced similar results.
Thin Mints contain caramel color, which has been shown to cause lung cancer in mice with longterm exposure. The National Center for Biotechnology Information warns that caramel color can have adverse affects on the immune system. Caramel color is also a concern because it contains ammonia and sulfites. When carbohydrates with ammonia are processed at high temperatures a toxic byproduct, known as 4-MeI, is produced. 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), has been linked to convulsions and an increased incidence of cancer in animal testing.
Carrageenan is a thickening agent often found in processed foods. It has gained negative attention because animals have shown gastrointestinal inflammation, intestinal lesions, ulcers, and malignant tumors after consuming carrageenan. It’s also often an indicator of MSG when carrageenan is on the ingredient list. Research on monosodium glutamate (MSG) shows it can cause obesity, intestinal issues, migraines, skin rashes and brain damage.
This ingredient is in all of the top five flavors of Girl Scout cookies I looked at. It’s the flour of choice, because it prolongs shelf life. Enriched flour is fortified with added nutrients because the natural nutrients were stripped away in processing. This leaves the enriched flour with nutrients, such as iron, that our bodies can’t fully absorb. In addition, foods fortified with folic acid, like enriched flour, are now linked to cancer. Whole grains are a much safer, and healthier option.
The processed wheat in enriched flour is also digested by the body quicker after fiber and nutrients are removed. This is actually making your fat! The stripped down wheat breaks down faster and quickly raises blood sugar in the process. The liver then must metabolize the excess sugar, storing some of it as fat.
Did you know there is no regulation on the term “natural?” Despite the label helping $40 billion in food sell each year in America, it means absolutely nothing. It is also another ingredient that can contain MSG. The term “artificial flavors” is almost as ambiguous. They can contain hundreds of chemicals. Artificial flavors can cause allergic reactions and behavioral issues in children.
Credit must be given to the Girl Scout’s for in fact teaching girls to make the world a better place. Many of their own young members are fighting to change these cookies. Back in 2008 two middle schoolers protested the use of palm oil in the fundraising treat. Now another young girl scout is spearheading a petition to remove GMOs from Girl Scout cookies. You can sign the petition to support the removal of GMOs from Girl Scout cookies and tell the Girl Scouts of America you want to see them make this change in the right direction.
Is it time for the Girl Scouts of America to stop selling sugary sweets to fundraise? Maybe we should teach young girls about health and what’s in our food along with those other life skills the Girl Scouts are learning.