Can cookies be healthy? Ingredients are key

Even desserts can have health benefits, as long as refined sugars and fats are substituted with nutrient-rich whole flours

Flours made of grains and seeds, like quinoa and chia, can offer the body more complete nutrients.WWW.WIKIPEDIA.COM

Cookies tend to be high in refined sugar and saturated fats. They’re generally considered unhealthy, and eating them often can be a risk factor for developing type II diabetes, obesity and Alzheimers.

Currently, across the globe, more than 1.6 billion people over 15 years old are overweight or obese. That number is expected to increase to 2.3 billion in 2050. The dramatic increase in obesity, sedentary lifestyles and the increased consumption of unhealthy ingredients are largely responsible for the increased rate of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The condition is caused by an imbalance in nutrients, and it affects between 15% and 30% of the population.

Cookies that are kind to our liver

Consuming too much refined sugar and saturated fat can alter the functioning of the immune system, which in turn influences the absorption, accumulation and use of fats in the body. So, is there such thing as a healthy cookie. Most health professionals don’t think so. But it is possible to make cookies with health benefits, as long as they include certain ingredients.

Specifically, one can follow a recipe that uses grain and seed flours, like quinoa and chia, which favor a healthier use of nutrients in the body. Products sold in supermarkets, however, tend to have very low proportions of those ingredients, suggesting that their inclusion is more a matter of marketing than a health consideration.

Towards a more precise nutrition

To measure any food’s health impact, social and psychological factors must be considered. Incidence of liver disease worsens according to the consumer’s conditions, including education, income, environment and housing quality.

These considerations have given rise to the field of immunonutrition, a new development in nutrition science. The field takes into account the particular characteristics of each consumer and their health, which has been called “precision nutrition.”

It’s not easy to predict cookies’ effects on one’s body just from their nutritional profile. Their health impact has to do with the nutrient structure, an aspect that has been long overlooked.

Enriched with chia and quinoa

Taking all this into account, how can we make healthy cookies? Whole flours contain quality nutrients that support the immune system, helping regulate the absorption of fats and sugars.

To put it into practice, in our research we substituted refined sugar, flour and fat for whole quinoa flour with chia fiber. The consumption of these cookies not only inverted their consumers’ tendency to gain weight, but it also increased their metabolism and, therefore, the burning of fat and sugar. All these effects are produced by changes in the immune system.

The new recipe with quinoa and chia also has a positive effect on the gut microbiome and the digestive system. Many microorganisms are responsible for eliminating the fat and sugar that we ingest, and maintaining them healthy helps to prevent obesity.

For those reasons, these cookies could be an ideal element of certain diets, helping to prevent certain nutritional imbalances.

José Moisés Laparra Llopis is a Researcher in Molecular Immunonutrition in Cancer at the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies in Software Development Technologies.

Claudia Monika Haros works as a scientist in the Food Science and Technology Area of the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC) in Spain.

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