How sweet it is! Finding better cookies, brownies, etc.


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Is it worth hunting for a better cookie? That depends. If you have a hankering for an occasional sugar-butter-white-flour experience, maybe not. Ditto if better cookies draw you away from healthy snacks like fresh fruit or nuts. However, if you prefer a cookie that’s less sweet, whole grain, and rich in nuts or dried fruit, look no further. We also tossed in a handful of better brownies, “bites,” and “thins.”

Click here for our full list of Better Bites.

A better cookie?

Our added-sugar and saturated fat cutoffs for Better Bites are based on the number of cookies that comes closest to 30 grams (about 1 oz.). Exception: For cookies that come in an individual pouch, a serving is the full pack. How we chose our Better Bites:

  • Some real food: The first ingredient is a whole grain, nut, seed, or dried fruit. Does that mean the second ingredient could be white flour or sugar? Yep. They’re cookies, after all.
  • Added sugar: No more than 9 grams (2 teaspoons). That gets you to less sweet. Think biscotti, not Oreos.
  • Saturated fat: No more than 2 grams. That doesn’t leave much room for butter, palm oil, coconut oil, etc.
  • Low-calorie sweeteners: No sucralose. That’s the only low-calorie sweetener with an “Avoid” rating in CSPI’s Chemical Cuisine that we found in cookies.

We didn’t disqualify cookies sweetened with (safe) stevia extract or with monk fruit extract. (It’s a natural sweetener that hasn’t been well tested in animals, but monk fruit has been eaten in China for centuries.) Allulose and sugar alcohols (like sorbitol) are also safe, but they may cause diarrhea or (with erythritol) nausea if you eat too much.

Brownies, etc.

Larabar fudge brownie chocolate raspberry
A flourless “brownie” of mostly dates and cashews.

Better brownies are tricky. Some are better for you, while others just look better. Two of the best:

  • Lärabar Fudge Brownie. It’s a Lärabar spin on brownies, so you’re getting a dense, fudgy square of mostly dates, cashews, hemp seeds, and chocolate chips. The Chocolate Raspberry gets a Better Bite, while the Chocolate Sea Salt just misses. Bravo!
  • Nature’s Bakery Double Chocolate Brownie. The first ingredient is whole wheat flour and there’s no white flour. For brownies, that’s rare. It may make them more filling than typical brownies, which are mostly sugar, white flour, and oil.

Still, Nature’s Bakery adds plenty of sugar (4 teaspoons, or 17 grams). But each 200-calorie pouch weighs 57 grams and holds two mini brownie bars. Eat just one, and you’re looking at a Better Bite.

Two of the better-brownie impostors:

  • Fiber One Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Yes, it has only 70 calories, as the box boasts. But the ingredients list is full of processed fibers, sugar alcohols, and white flour.
  • Brownie brittle. “With all the wholesome goodness of gluten-free ingredients baked in, and only 130 calories per serving,” says Sheila G’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Brownie Brittle. Wholesome goodness? The first three ingredients are refined rice flour, sugar, and starch. And there are 16 grams of added sugar in just a 28-gram serving.

Keto, etc.

Nowadays, the “healthier”-cookie aisle is morphing. Are any keto, lower-carb, lower-sugar, or higher-protein cookies worth it?

HighKey Mini Cookies peanut butter
Misses a Better Bite by just 1 gram of sat fat.

The upsides. Highkey, Fancypants, and some others replace cookies’ usual white flour with nuts or seeds like almond flour, sunflower seeds, peanuts, or peanut butter. And most have no more than 1 gram of added sugar per serving.

The downsides. Most lower-carb cookies have a butter or coconut oil or palm oil problem. They can easily hit 5 to 10 grams of saturated fat—a quarter to half a day’s max.

For some protein cookies, the issue is portion size. A Lenny & Larry’s Chocolate Chip The Complete Cookie (“16 g protein”), for example, clocks in at four times the usual cookie serving. At 420 calories, it’s a small (and unhealthy) meal.

Most lower-sugar cookies use low-calorie sweeteners like erythritol or allulose, plus processed fibers like inulin (aka chicory root) or polydextrose. If they give you GI distress, steer clear.


kodiak graham bear bites honey
Kodiak does whole grains right.
Kodiak Cakes.


Graham flour is whole-grain wheat. So why do many graham crackers have more “enriched” (refined) flour than whole wheat? Who knows?

Kodiak Graham Bear Bites are the only 100% whole-grain grahams we found. Take your pick: the Chocolate, Cinnamon, and Honey are all Better Bites...and all delicious.

Just don’t be fooled by their “protein-packed” claim.

Yes, Kodiak adds milk protein concentrate and egg whites. But the 5 grams of protein per serving are only a few more grams than you’d get from typical cookies. It takes twice that much (10 grams) to call a food “high protein,” according to labeling rules. And even a high-protein cookie is still a cookie.


simple mills sweet thins chocolate brownie sweet thins
Cookies meet crackers: A slightly sweet, thin crisp.
Simple Mills.

Ounce for ounce, “thin” versions of typical cookies—Oreo Thins, Chips Ahoy! Thins, etc.—have no less sugar and no fewer calories than regular Oreos, Chips Ahoy!, etc.

So they’re only healthier if you eat fewer cookies.

In contrast, Simple Mills Sweet Thins aren’t just a thin version of a sugary, white-flour cookie. They’re a new, lightly sweet spin on thins altogether. Sweet Thins’ first ingredient: a “seed & nut flour blend” of cashews and watermelon, sunflower, and flax seeds. Yum.

Watermelon seeds? Don’t worry. If you didn’t know they were there, you’d never notice.

Biscotti, etc.

Nonni's Originali Biscotti
Any brand’s biscotti is a decent bet.
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

Biscotti are made with white flour, so there are no Better Bites. But if you’re looking for a crunchy, not-too-sweet cookie, they’re worth a shot. Two standouts:

  • Nonni’s THINaddictives. The 21-gram pack, which contains three crisp, nut-studded biscotti thins, delivers just 4 to 6 grams of added sugar and 90-or-so calories.
  • Whole Foods 365 Classic Pizzelle. Like biscotti, the traditional Italian “waffle cookies” aren’t too sweet. Unlike biscotti, they have a soft bite.

Whole grains

voortman super grains blueberry cookies
"60% of grains are whole grain,” says the label. Now that’s helpful! Most labels aren’t.
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

Oatmeal is a whole grain, but most oatmeal raisin cookies have more white flour than anything else. Some better whole grains in the cookie aisle:

  • Nature Valley. Both the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Peanut Butter Minis Sandwiches are Better Bites that are made with 100 percent whole grains (oats and wheat).
  • Voortman. The whole-grain oats, wheat, rye, and buckwheat in its Super Grains cookies make up 60 percent of their total grains. Not too shabby. And the first ingredient in its Oatmeal Raisin cookies is actually oats!
  • BelVita Breakfast. If you ignore the “breakfast” nonsense in its name, BelVitas are decent cookies that have more whole grain than refined flour. Most varieties come close to a Better Bite, even though they’re sold in large (50-gram) packs of four biscuits or two sandwiches.

Fig bars

fig newtons
Look for the Newtons made from 100% whole-grain wheat.
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

Fig bar fan? It’s a snap to spot 100 percent whole-grain versions.

  • Newtons. Even original Fig Newtons get a Better Bite. And while they have some whole grain, the 100% Whole Grain version has almost twice as much...and tastes nearly identical. Skip the Strawberry Newtons, though. They’re dyed red and have an extra 3 grams of sugar per two-cookie serving.
  • Nature’s Bakery. Each 57-gram pouch of the brand’s 100% whole-grain fig bars holds two mini bars. That’s twice the usual cookie serving. But a single bar meets our Better Bite criteria. Nature’s Gluten Free bars, on the other hand, have little whole grain. Too bad.


the GFB peanut butter gluten free bites
A sweet, chewy bite coated in crunchy nuts.
Lindsay Moyer - CSPI.

If your idea of a cookie is flexible, try “bites.” They’re more likely to deliver nuts, dried fruit, and/or whole grains:

  • The GFB Gluten Free Bites. The first ingredient is usually almonds, cashews, or peanuts. And most varieties are Better Bites, with no more than 3 or 4 grams (1 tsp.) of added sugar per two-bite serving.
  • Laura’s Wholesome Junk Food Bite-lettes. They’re heavy on rolled oats and dried fruit and light enough on added sugar to score Better Bites for all five varieties. Wholesome junk food, indeed!

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