The other day at the gym, I found this bag of peanut butter “protein cookies” and was utterly fascinated by it. The packaging proudly displays “18 grams of protein per bag”, along with every healthy-sounding buzzword there is: Non-GMO, gluten-free and high protein. Let’s not put on airs, bag of cookies, you’re still junk food.
It seems that nowadays you’ll find more protein in just about everything, from cream cheese to peanut butter to cereal, and now cookies. That’s because protein is important for general health, weight loss, and muscle growth. Now protein is the ultimate health halo: As long as something boasts “high protein” (even if it’s really not that high), you might perceive it to be better for you. Few foods have such a powerful health halo effect (kale and acai come to mind). To see the health halo in action, here are some choice quotes from the back of the package (some parts bolded for emphasis):
Power bites protein cookies are guilt-free protein packed treats that will delight your taste buds and fuel your body with the energy you need to go about your busy day.
Enjoy life. Love your body. Feel good doing it.
The taste of health.
That sounds wonderful, but it's actually really disingenuous. Because when you look at the ingredients, the first one is brown sugar. And while it claims to have 18g of protein per bag, each bag has three servings. Cool, so if you want the protein, you're getting a three-for-one deal on 18g of sugar and 18g of fat, too.
Hey, I'm not saying sugar is necessarily evil. It's just that most of us already eat too much added sugar (and all the fat that typically buddies up with high-sugared foods), which just makes fitting actually nutritious foods into our daily kilojoule targets more difficult.
To its credit, these protein cookies have a much shorter list of ingredients than say, Oreos. But if you did eat the whole bag of protein cookies, well, that's 1700kJ that will probably make you hungry shortly after (and let's be honest here: Can most of us really stop at two small cookies?). Sure, maybe you can argue that you /"deserve it" because you had a hard workout, but that sort of thinking is a slippery slope that could lead to overeating.
If you're trying to eat more protein, there are much better alternatives, like making your own protein smoothies, where you can control the ingredients. If you want a cookie, you might as well have a real cookie from a bakery. Make it a good one.