Cookies. Who doesn’t love them? Pick your poison: chocolate chip, macadamia nut, oatmeal raisin… we could go on. If you have a sweet tooth, keeping your treats low in sugar can be hard if you’re trying to eat healthy. And protein cookies—trendy wellness snacks and desserts—are combining the best of both worlds with their sweet and nutritious elements.
“I think people are loving this protein cookie trend because it makes them feel less ‘guilty’ about indulging in a sweet treat (or two, or three),” says Charlotte Martin, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CPT, registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Shaped by Charlotte, LLC.
But just because they’re geared toward being a healthy alternative to the real deal, doesn’t mean they are.
“The fact that they’re marketed as ‘protein cookies’ gives them this health-halo effect, even though they may not actually be nutritious or any better than regular cookies,” says Martin.
Before you shop the grocery store for these fitness snacks, read our guide to choosing the 9 best protein cookies and how to avoid the unhealthier options.
How to choose a healthy protein cookie
There are tons of options when it comes to which cookie to choose, but there are certain things to look out for that set certain cookies above the rest.
- Treat protein cookies like any other food. “I think it’s still important to treat a protein cookie as you would a regular cookie,” says Amber Pankonin MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian and owner of Stirlist. “Don’t assume that they’re all created equal or that they’re healthy just because the word ‘protein’ is in the title. Make sure to read the nutrition facts panel and pay special attention to serving size as several brands label ½ cookie as 1 serving.”
- Keep an eye on sugar content. “I also check to make sure there isn’t more added sugar than there is protein – you want at least the same amount of protein as there is added sugar, but ideally higher,” says Pankonin. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day for women and no more than 37.5 grams of added sugar for men.
- Look for fiber content. “I like to look for at least a few grams of fiber,” says Martin. “But buyer beware – some of the fiber sources used in health products can cause digestive upset in some individuals.”
The best protein cookies
The following 9 best protein cookies were hand-picked by nutritionists for their stellar nutritional qualities.
1. Munk Pack – Snickerdoodle
“Although I’m not a huge fan of the larger protein cookies that yield 2 servings per cookie, the nutritionals on this one are good,” says Martin. “You get a little more protein than you do added sugar and a few grams of fiber, too. Plus, they’re made with a plant-based protein blend instead of whey and are dairy- and egg-free, so they’re great for vegans or those avoiding dairy and/or eggs.”
2. Kakookies Cashew Blondie
“This cookie has great texture and good flavor,” says Pankonin. “It might not be as high in protein or fiber compared to other brands, but it would be a good place to start for somebody looking for a protein cookie. It’s also gluten-free which might be helpful for gluten-free shoppers.”
3. Siren Birthday Cake Protein Bites
“The texture is more like cookie dough which I really like, but it also has really good flavor,” says Pankonin. “Again, I like the fiber content because it’s not too much. This one is also dairy free and soy free, which might be good for those who are allergic or looking to avoid dairy or soy.”
4. Lenny & Larry’s The Complete Crunchy Cookies – Chocolate Chip
“I think the nutritional profile of these cookies is better than the original chewy/soft Lenny & Larry’s cookies,” says Martin. “Although I’d like to see a little more protein in them, I like that the protein blend is listed as the first ingredient, and that there’s 4 grams fiber
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5. <a href=”http://www.paleoprimefoods.com/cookies/vanilla-raspberry-paleo-cookies-12ct” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Paleo Prime Vanilla Raspberry
<img class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-466915 ” src=”https://www.eatthis.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/paleo-prime-vanilla-raspberry-1.jpg” alt=”paleo prime vanilla raspberry” width=”640″ />
[nutrinfo-black]Per serving: 220 calories, 15 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (3 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 5 g protein
“Another gluten free option, this cookie has a good flavor and a nice mouthfeel. I like this one because it’s really satisfying and you can taste the vanilla raspberry flavor!” says Pankonin.
6. Alani Nu Protein Cookie – Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
“These cookies also have the protein blend listed as the first ingredient,” says Martin. “What I like most about these cookies is how much protein you get in each. You get 16 grams of whey protein for just a little over 200 calories, making it comparable to a protein bar but in cookie form.”
7. Buff Bake Protein Crunchy Sandwich Cookies – Birthday Cake
“I like how Buff Bake got creative with the protein cookie idea and made sandwich cookies with their signature nut butter stuffed between two crunchy cookies,” says Martin. “These cookies also have protein listed as the first ingredient and have a 2:1 ratio of protein to added sugar. Plus, they’re gluten free for those who need to avoid gluten.”
8. Lenny & Larry’s The Complete Cookie, Snickerdoodle
“This cookie has a great snickerdoodle flavor and I like the softness of the texture. However, the serving size is ½ the cookie, so be mindful of your portion size,” says Pankonin.
9. Quest Protein Cookie – Chocolate Chip
“This protein is the lowest in sugar of the bunch, with no added sugar whatsoever. It’s sweetened primarily by Stevia, which could be a good thing if you’re watching your sugar intake,” says Martin. “It’s also high in protein and fiber. However, the whopping 9 grams of fiber
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The worst protein cookies
There were a few different reasons why certain protein cookies landed on our worst list. For some dietitians, it was about taste, others it was about portion size,
1. Cookie+ Protein – Chocolate Chip
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“This one is the worst of the bunch. Evaporated cane juice (aka sugar) is listed as the first ingredient, which makes sense when you see the grams of sugar listed is double that of the protein,” says Martin. “You might as well just eat a large regular cookie and have a half of a protein shake on the side.”
2. NuGo Peanut Butter Chocolate
“This cookie has a lot of fiber in one sitting. Also, the flavor and texture are not appetizing,” says Pankonin.
3. Lenny & Larry Complete Cookie (original) – Chocolate Chip
“This is another large protein cookie that yields 2 servings per cookie,” says Martin. “Enriched wheat flour (aka refined flour) is listed as the first ingredient, and the protein blend as the second ingredient. Plus, there’s slightly more added sugar than there is protein.”
4. NuGo Protein Cookie – Dark Chocolate Chip
“I’m not a huge fan of the large protein cookies that yield two servings per cookie because 1) many people don’t realize the one cookie provides two servings and 2) how many people really stop themselves from eating the whole cookie once they’ve already eaten half of it? Plus, these cookies are higher in sugar than they are protein,” says Martin.
5. Oatmega Cookie White Chocolate Chip
“A serving size contains 340 calories (which is on the higher side),” says Pankonin. “The fiber content might be too high for some, but I wouldn’t recommend it because the flavor was not appetizing.”