Veganism is widely accepted as being a healthy lifestyle, but even the healthiest lifestyle doesn’t preclude delicious desserts. It’s not always easy to make desserts with dietary restrictions in mind. Take it from me, I was gluten-free for a time, and it was damned difficult to make something taste like a cookie without flour.
That said, vegan dessert recipes are a little easier to manage. It's certainly easy to make vegan cookies delicious — but will your vegan cookies be any healthier than conventional cookies? For that matter, are vegan cookies healthy at all?
What makes a cookie vegan?
Vegans follow a plant-based diet that eschews eating any animal products. The same holds true for living a vegan lifestyle, only in addition to not eating any animal products, you also don’t use any products made from animals, such as fabrics like leather, fur, and wool. When it comes to desserts, that means no milk, butter, yogurt, or eggs.
Fortunately, there are a number of plant-based milks, butters, and yogurts out there, many of which use coconut (a delicious flavor, I might add) to replicate that milky consistency. There are also endless options when it comes to replacing eggs.
Are vegan cookies healthy?
Let’s talk plainly for a moment — no one ever accused butter of being healthy. So, skimping on the butter (and therefore the cholesterol and hormones) is definitely going to make any vegan cookie creation a little healthier than its dairy-laden counterpart. The same goes for eggs — whatever you use instead of eggs (such as applesauce, flaxseeds, or a store-bought vegan egg replacer) is certainly healthier for you than cholesterol-laden eggs.
That said, vegan cookies aren’t necessarily “healthier” than regular cookies. Just because you don’t have the added milk fats or egg yolks of conventional desserts does not mean your confection won’t be heavily laden with caloric glory.
Also, you’re still going to need some sort of fat (whether you opt for vegan butter, oil, or nut butter), flour, and sugar. In fact, your vegan cookies will probably be just as loaded with sugar as any other cookies. And even if you opt for organic, fresh, or less-processed ingredients in your cookie confection, you cannot avoid the fact that what you are making is a dessert.
Are there ways to make a vegan cookie more healthy?
It might delight you to know that there are some ways to make a vegan cookie a wee bit healthier. According to the American Heart Association, natural sweeteners are the real way to go. Many health organizations recommend using things like brown rice syrup, maple syrup, agave nectar, or coconut sugar to sweeten your cookies rather than highly-processed white sugar. That said, natural sweeteners are not the “good sources of vitamins and minerals” that some healthy living sites might bill them as.
As a result, you’re probably better off using something like a fresh fruit, such as dates, than these concentrated sugar substitutes. The other problem is that “healthy” cookies are often made with high-calorie ingredients like nuts and nut flours, dried fruits, oils, grass-fed butter, and coconut milk. All of these are incredibly dense, calorically-speaking, and they pack a lot of energy and calories into a few small bites.
How to choose the best vegan cookie?
According to Keri Gans, nutritionist and author of the Small Change Diet, there are a few surefire ways to ensure that your vegan cookies are at least erring on the side of healthy. The first is to make certain that each cookie is approximately 150 calories per serving. It’s fairly easy to accomplish and you can still use natural sweeteners and vegan ingredients to cut down on the overall sugars.
Honestly, the best way to make sure that your cookies are on the healthier side is to make them yourself. There are literally thousands of recipes online for healthy, vegan, organic desserts, many of which will tell you how to substitute some of the sweeter, higher calorie ingredients for healthier alternatives. For example, this recipe for healthy chocolate chip cookies from the blog Veggiekins uses nutritious ingredients like almond butter, maple syrup, coconut sugar, flaxseeds, oat flour, and almond flour to replace butter, eggs, and white flour, making it just a bit healthier for you.
Are any store-bought vegan cookies healthy?
Even if you’re not a baker, there are dozens of vegan cookie brands out there. Many of them are even on the healthy side. Of course, you’re going to have to look for a few important details in the ingredient and nutrition lists before putting that box into your reusable shopping bag.
Look for cookies that have the least amount of added sugars. 8 grams of sugar per serving is a good benchmark to go by here. Also, look for cookies that contain a good amount of fiber and protein, as well. But listen, no matter what, it’s still going to be a cookie, so don’t beat yourself up too much about it. It is as a certain blue and furry monster once said, “cookies are a sometimes food,” and they should be treated as such.