Can a Cookie Be Considered a Performance Food?

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
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Can a Cookie Be Considered a Performance Food?

Simply scrolling through any social media feed probably results in numerous images of mouth-watering cookies. The images alone might have you craving cookies (obviously), but are the captions that call them out as being healthy or guilt-free too good to be true? Before you start baking cookies ‘for your health,’ it is important to know whether that cookie recipe is actually healthy or not.

Here’s how to figure out if that cookie recipe lives up to the healthy hype.

INGREDIENTS ARE KEY

When reviewing a recipe, go straight to the ingredient list. If the only modification is subbing cane sugar for coconut sugar, news flash: It’s still sugar, and nothing about the nutrition has changed. Read through the ingredients for meaningful swaps or additions from whole-grain flour varieties such as buckwheat or spelt, fibrous ingredients like chia, oats or flax, nutrient-rich dried or fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts, and other potential health-boosting ingredients such as turmeric, tahini, spirulina, etc. Adding more of these nutrient-rich ingredients helps boost the healthfulness of the cookie.

FOCUS ON PURPOSE

A large part of what makes something healthy is how it relates to your goals. Think about why and when you’re eating the cookie and opt for recipes that fit that nutrient profile. For a pre-workout cookie, add energy-boosting carbohydrates, which is your body’s preferred energy source for intense activity, with honey, banana or oats. To use the cookie as a grab ’n’ go meal or substantial snack, add protein powder and fibrous whole vegetables such as shredded zucchini or carrot to help fill you up. Increasing the fat content with coconut oil or nut butter can also help increase satiety and promote energy for lower-intensity endurance training since your body uses more fat as energy for this type of workout.

BUT IT SAYS ‘HEALTHY’!

As a dietitian, the term ‘healthy’ makes me shudder a little. Sure, it has good intentions, but ‘healthy’ is a very vague and largely meaningless word because what is healthy for one person’s body and goals could be extremely different from what is healthy for the recipe developer’s (or influencer’s or whomever’s) body and goals. Bottom line: Understand your individual needs and define the results you’d like food intake to help promote because food is only healthy if it promotes general health, mental well-being or performance.

EAT THE ORIGINAL

Sure mashing a banana, oats and nut butter together and calling it a cookie is likely to be better nutritionally than the original buttery, crispy or cakey version. However, attempting to overly healthify something that’s supposed to trigger indulgent feelings can backfire in three main ways. First, providing a health halo to food can result in consuming the entire batch because you perceive it as being good for you. One or two might be nutritious, but a dozen might have different results. Second, you might be more likely to eat one healthy cookie and then end up binging on some other less nutritious food later because that healthy cookie did not satisfy your cravings. Sometimes what is truly healthy for you at that moment is to just enjoy your food intake. Third, it is easy to create a mindset of food guilt for eating something that hasn’t been healthified. Yes, food should be consumed to meet your nutrition needs and performance goals, but happiness, taste and satisfaction should also be factored into the bigger picture of health.

Discover hundreds of healthy recipes — from high protein to low carb — via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.

About the Author

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.

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