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Organization zeroing in on healthier Girl Scout cookie

Lisa Gutierrez Knight Ridder Newspapers

But do they still taste good?

Customers will want to know as Girl Scouts around the nation start their annual cookie drive between now and early next year with new, healthier treats: cookies with zero trans fat.

The Scouts have taken the villainous substance out of three of their most popular cookies: Thin Mints, Caramel deLites and Peanut Butter Patties. Two new cookies, the fudge-covered Thanks-A-Lot and reduced-fat Cartwheels, don’t have trans fat, either.

Kansas City Scouts, among the first in the country to take orders for the new cookies, are eager to roll them out. The cookies will be delivered in early January.

“The fact that five of them are trans fat-free is big news to them,” says Martha Singleton, marketing communications manager for the Girl Scouts of Mid-Continent Council. By next year’s drive all Girl Scout cookies will be free of the fat that scientists now tell us is more harmful to our hearts than saturated fat.

“I think it’s going to be great,” says Dianne Brungardt, leader of two Scout troops in Independence, Mo. “I think our sales will go up because of it.

“I hear every year that everyone’s on a diet, and they love cookies, and they love Girl Scout cookies and want to help out with our programs, but they want something with reduced fat or something healthier.”

Girl Scout cookies join a parade of other foods, from Doritos to Goldfish crackers, that have been de-trans-fatted in anticipation of new FDA labeling requirements that go into effect Jan. 1. That’s when foods containing trans fat must state amounts on the nutrition label.

The rule is expected to affect 40 percent of the stuff on supermarket shelves, from breakfast cereal and snack crackers to candy and microwave popcorn.

Trans fats – used to increase shelf life, stabilize flavor and make foods creamy – usually come from partially hydrogenated oils found in most cookies, cakes and processed foods. The food industry used them for decades because they were cheap and thought to be healthier than saturated fats.

But scientists have found that’s not the case, with studies finding a relationship between diets high in trans fat and high LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, levels.

“I think there are some folks out there who want to vilify everyone who uses trans fat,” says Sherry Sybesma, senior vice president of sales and marketing for ABC Cookie Baker, the oldest licensed maker of Girl Scout cookies. “The truth is that for a long time we thought we were doing the right thing.” The Virginia company makes eight varieties of Scout cookies and many other products for some of the country’s largest food retailers and manufacturers.

Responding to the new trans fat science, ABC began researching and developing new trans fat-free products several years ago and added trans-fat content information on its products last year.

For the Girl Scouts, the bakery knew it would be challenged to come up with trans fat-free recipes for new cookies that taste as good as the old. It can be done. You probably haven’t even noticed that your Cheetos and Lay’s potato chips don’t have trans fat anymore because they taste the same.

The new cookies may lack trans fat, but some have a tad more saturated fat and sugar. The old Thin Mints, for instance, had 4 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat and 10 grams of sugars per four-cookie serving, according to the nutrition label. Calories per serving: 170.

The new Thin Mints, sans trans fat, have 6 grams of saturated fat and 11 grams of sugars per serving. Calories: 160.

Sybesma promises that Girl Scout cookie connoisseurs will not be disappointed. The company’s taste tests revealed no significant difference in taste. “I have not had one person who has told me, ‘Ooh, the new one doesn’t taste good,’ “she says.

Scout leader Brungardt, who began training troop leaders for the cookie drive in September, concurs.

“They taste just as good as ever,” she says. “I think they taste the same.”

In fact, the price per box is the same this year, too – $3.50.

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