3 out of 5 Girl Scout cookies contain dangerous trans fats

Despite efforts to increase the nutritional value of food offered to students in moves such as the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act,  Wal Mart’s bold initiative to phase out trans fats from their retail stores by 2015, and the USDA’s latest announcement of their pledge to upgrade the nutritional profile of school meals, students are still pushing trans fats on each other and their communities by way of Girl Scout cookies that have been marked as containing “0 grams trans fat” since 2007.

While the Girl Scouts do offer five varieties of cookies that are trans fat free, the three most popular girl scout cookies: Samoas, Tagalongs and Thin Mints, all contain partially hydrogenated oil near the top of the ingredients list. Although these cookies contain trans fats, current FDA labeling allows the ‘zero trans fat’ claim on any product if the trans fat levels are less than 0.5 grams per serving.

In a recently published article in the American Journal of Health Promotion, Case Western Reserve University Medical School researchers petitioned the FDA to require manufacturers to disclose trans fat levels on labels in 0.1-gram increments, which would require the popular Girl Scout cookies to list updated and accurate labels.

Artificial trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil) are created through a process of pumping hydrogen into vegetable oil to make it into a solid for flavor purposes and to make products more shelf-stable. They have been widely used in the last several decades, but recent research has linked them to a number of health issues including the rising incidence of bad LDL cholesterol levels and lower healthy HDL cholesterol levels, heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and stroke.  Naturally occurring trans fats are also found in animal products.

Even the FDA itself concurs that trans fat consumption should be limited “as much as possible,” but there are currently no regulations limiting the sale of Girl Scout cookies to other students, or any timeline to update the labels to reflect the occurrence of trans fats in the cookies.

The Girl Scouts say they have been working to make healthier cookies that still appeal to their audience. “Our bakers are constantly tweaking the recipes, but we do know that our girls are selling a beloved American treat that is to be enjoyed in moderation,” said spokeswoman Michelle Tompkins.

Students have already begun seeing healthier lunch options and more nutritious vending machine offerings on school grounds, even though the controversial cookies are still available.

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Photo: Stephen Cummings