in Food

When Oreo Cookies Are A Health Food


Is it possible that how we eat is more important than what we eat? Maybe, just maybe, pleasure is immensely important in deciding whether a food is healthy or not.

Consider the Oreo cookie.

Sawyer eats with joy

Sawyer eats Oreo cookies daily but enjoys every moment of the eating process. While eating, Sawyer is in the moment and appreciates the art that went into creating such a delectable food. He eats them alone or with people without feeling any guilt. The pleasure is immense and he honestly doesn’t care what others think about his desire for Oreos. Sometimes he’ll eat only one. Sometimes he’ll eat 10. No matter, because Oreos provide a keen sense of joy for Sawyer.

Sawyer believes that what he eats is healthy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Subway sub or a grass-fed steak or an Oreo cookie. He has no major health issues and is a glowing picture of health.

Emmett eats with guilt

Emmett eats Oreo cookies almost daily but feels guilty before, during and after eating them. While eating, he thinks about all the toxins in the Oreo. He only eats them alone because he is afraid of what others will think of him considering he could lose a few pounds off of what he refers to as his ‘wheat belly’. Sometimes he will eat only 1 while sometimes he’ll eat 10. No matter because every bite lowers his self-esteem.

Emmett struggles with what is healthy and what is not. He reads dozens of blogs and is confused because everything is so contradicting. One study shows that saturated fat is healthy while the next one says it will give you heart disease. He believes that the Oreos will kill him but he can’t stop eating them.

Are Oreo cookies a health food?

For Sawyer, it’s possible that eating Oreos in the fashion that he eats them has a positive influence on his health. For Emmett, it’s likely that eating Oreos in the fashion that he eats them has a negative influence on his health.

Context matters. If you believe that Oreo cookies are not healthy then you are probably right. If you believe that Oreo cookies are healthy then, well, you may be right. I’d bet that Michael Phelps’ body would love the calories after a training session.

Your opinion matters. Please leave a comment below with your thoughts! Facebook comments.

photo credit


  1. Are we talking about regular oreo’s our double stuff? lol

  2. It’s an interesting notion. I definitely think being present and eating in an unstressed manner is ABSOLUTELY important, I know for me personally I can eat the same meal but depending on how I’m feeling when I’m eating it, e.g. if I’m rushing when eating or if I’m relaxed and taking me time to chew and savour then I digest that food in completely different ways.

    • Exactly. We all digest foods differently but a huge factor is what we are thinking about, how much we are chewing, our feelings, etc. And it’s so important for how much nutrition we obtain from whatever food it is.

  3. WELL WRITTEN! I love this. The state of the mind when eating food definitely plays a significant role in the effect the food will have on the body. If it’s stressful and contributes largely to worsening self-esteem (the Emmett scenario), then I agree that it has a much more negative effect on the body (by raising cortisol levels and such) than when eating it with pleasure and savoring every bite (the Sawyer situation). However, I still will disagree with this statement: “If you believe that Oreo cookies are healthy than you are probably right.” Because: an Oreo is an Oreo is an Oreo…and I don’t ever think they are anything close to “healthy,” yet I do agree with what you’re saying regarding the more negative effect it can have on health if it’s stressing you out at the same time. My opinion 🙂

    • Well thanks Cassie! It would be awesome to have a conversation about this. I simply have lots of questions…

      If you had a positive mindset beforehand, would ONE bite of an Oreo cookie do any harm to you? Maybe you think so but let’s say you say no. Ok so why are Oreo cookies inherently unhealthy? It depends on the individual and how much he or she eats, right?

      Now think about water. If we don’t consume a drop of water within like 4 days we will die. But if we consume too much we will die. It’s rare that we will die but it’s not so rare to over hydrate. Just like an Oreo. And Oreo cookies do have calories which is the ultimate nutrient. I know we need vitamins and minerals. Duh. But calories are the most essential. We can be deficient in Vitamin A for a while and while we may be getting sick, we can easily replenish our stores and end up being just fine without any long term consequences. But calories? We will die without enough. And we can die rather quickly.

      I’ll never outright recommend someone eats an Oreo. But with the right context, Oreos can improve your health. Think about the millions that are starving to death. These people need to eat. Would an apple be better? Sure. But would Oreos still improve their health? I think so.

      Trans fats are bad. Oreos have these nasty fats. But anti-nutrients are also known as “bad” too, right? I guess it’s too bad that ALL plants have them!

      In short… Let’s eat food. Like plantains. And scallops. And kale. But let’s not stress over the tiny details when it’s not necessary. Let’s be grateful for life. For all the beauty that Earth has to offer. Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.


      • Thanks for replying. Of course I agree with the comments you’ve made about being grateful for life and looking at the big picture instead of stressing over fine details. That’s the essence of the very message I preach to my followers and clients. Stressing and stress in general do not promote health, which is what you and I are all about!
        And I’m with you that ONE Oreo likely doesn’t do much harm to a person’s health, but it still doesn’t mean they’re “healthy.” (and who eats just ONE Oreo, anyway? Carbs make us crave carbs.)
        Of course I agree with the scenario you’ve outlined: For a STARVING individual, they absolutely need calories and in this case, Oreos are better than no food at all because they provide calories for them to live. That’s a totally different scenario that the 2 that you outlined in the original post. If someone was starving, anything is better than nothing to keep their body functioning. So yes, as you said in your original post, Context matters. But I still completely disagree with this: “If you believe that Oreo cookies are healthy than you are probably right.” A belief does not make it right. If I believe that cheating on a test isn’t wrong, then that doesn’t make it wrong. If I don’t believe in God but He actually exists, then the fact that I don’t believe in Him doesn’t mean I’m right. If I believe murdering someone because I don’t like them is fair, then just because I believe it does not make it right. Oreo cookies are not healthy even if we believe they are.

        • I eat one Oreo. I’m not a carbophobe, and while I don’t consider it healthy, I used to be a cigarette smoker, I’m hardly going to worry about a bloody cookie. One is plenty, and not a problem

  4. It’s a sliding scale. Is a cookie eaten with joy healthier than a cookie eaten with guilt? Yes. Is a cookie eaten with joy healthier than meats and vegetables eaten with stress? Doubtful.

    • Maybe. What vegetable? How is it cooked or prepared? How much? How severe is the stress and what kind of stress? If it’s just one cookie and one floret of broccoli then…

  5. Toad, have you gone completely mad? What on earth are you saying man?

  6. In my opinion, Oreo cookies are unhealthy no matter how you look at it. Perhaps there is pleasure while eating them, but if they are continually consumed, the damage from processing, HFCS and, most likely, genetically modified ingredients that they contain will no doubt have problematic consequences down the road. That won’t make up for any happiness felt during the time it takes to eat them.

    • I think the point was the power of the mind, not the food in question.

      • Yes it was definitely about the power of our minds. Our brains are what make us human. What make us so unique to other species.

    • I appreciate your thoughts Judy. It leaves me with 2 questions. There are lots of toxic ingredients in Oreos but isn’t mental stress that is repeated over and over again toxic? And our bodies are always fighting for homeostasis right?

  7. I would agree that enjoying something guilt free, whether or healthy or not, is going to stimulate “good” brain chemicals vs. “negative” which in turn not only will effect self esteem but also how the body physically reacts. My guess is that if you are eating something you know is bad, you continue to eat it anyway, endure the guilt, you are most likely going to continue overeating that item – because you’ve already failed by eating it to begin with. The only thing I can think of that might be worse is realizing something you thought was good/healthy — only to find out just the opposite. For instance – we have had tons of sugar free items in the house (zero calorie) but now eating Paleo know – the chemicals used to generate the “sweet” are most likely worse than just regular sugar. (yes – sugar isn’t great either – and we have made adjustments there too 🙂 But we continue to make 1 change at a time – embracing this new life change.

  8. I do agree that we need to find a way to destress the heathy eating regime for some of us and learn to truly enjoy a treat once in a while…without feeling like we somehow threw ourselves under the bus nutritionally for eating the occasional cookie or piece of pizza. If we treat our bodies right and give them the healthy foods they need…they are better equipped to deal with an occasional cookie. 🙂

  9. The mind is a very powerful tool! For instance, if you think you can do it you can. You can be anything you want to be. How many times did we hear that as children? The funny thing is , when we stopped hearing it we forget. You make a great point!

  10. Joy brings health – Worry destroys health.
    What we eat matters, but how we live, and eat, matters more.
    I occasionally wallow in “unhealthy” food, but if I’m eating clean, well, and Primally most of the time, I know that it’s just part of the good life.
    Having a good life is the best.

  11. This is very interesting! I have been recently thinking about this exact idea as well. Not Oreo cookies. Potato chips. My relationship with what I eat. Intention and context. Now I have to go experiment with several different foods. Then I will report back. Thanks! for the thread!

  12. must we always indulge in pleasure? some people feel pleasure in doing things that hurt other people or the environment, etc. I believe in following your bliss…for the most part, but our conscious and logic should guide us and keep us from pursuing EVERY single thing we may get pleasure from. if Sawyer thinks they are healthy he has no awareness, and sure his stress levels are lower, but that does not negate the reaction his body is having and the cumulative effects as well as deepening addiction. Emmett needs to relax and either decide to treat himself without feeling bad or just resist and feel good about his decision. by staying healthy, he is putting less stress on his body overall, even if his concerns make him a little neurotic. really, to turn a blind eye, has gotten us in a world of shit. we shouldn’t have to worry about toxic food, but we do. I was vegetarian 15 years thinking I was doing the best I could for my children and I. I loved my diet, I loved soy, I loved whole grain home baked bread…but I eventually got sick and was forced to reexamine my life. I grudgingly became a meat water again, and sometimes ignorant bliss would be easier, but my concerns and sometimes stress keep me on the right track.

    • If we are honest with ourselves on our health journey and listen as carefully as we can possibly listen, then won’t we recognize the harm that we are doing by not eating the best foods? We don’t just wake up obese or with diabetes. It is cumulative like you said and we can certainly feel it. The more we listen, the more honest we are, the less of a chance there is of us getting a disease. I think this is something I did not discuss enough in the post. It’s not like you can enjoy Oreos endlessly. But we can enjoy them. One bite, one cookie, one package over X amount of days is not doing harm. I truly don’t buy it. Perhaps it is a little but in the end, if we listen and are honest, we will realize that we should probably eat less Oreos or stop eating them completely. Our body is smart. We know when we should drink water, we know when we should stop running or doing push-ups. We know when we should go to sleep. We know when we need alone time.

      Sorry for the rant 🙂

  13. Toad, I know you are a big fan of Mark Sisson. Doesn’t he say that the equation for optimum health is something like 80% nutrition, 10% exercise and 10% lifestyle (sleep, stress, etc)? Sure you can argue with the percentages a little bit, but the point is that you can’t make up for a bad diet simply by living a happy, low stress lifestyle. I know plenty of people who seek pleasure in life, but do not pay attention to their nutrition. From my observation, these people seem to be less “fit” and healthy than those of us who might carry around more stress, but pay attention to what we eat.

    • But is eating junk food day in and day out in an unreasonable amount pleasurable? I don’t think so. If you feel like crap then you will not find pleasure. Our body knows what it wants. We have to be more careful in today’s world because there is junk food all over. But we instinctively know what is bad and what is not. I think we need to ask ourselves why we are craving this or that instead of ignoring it.

  14. I absolutely agree that your mindset as you approach food is important, no question about it. Stress & guilt are killers. But my experience unfortunately proves to me that the actual nutrients matter more… Sigh. I was a vegetarian for a number of years and believed completely that I was eating healthy, and I definitely enjoyed the food I was eating. However, I was getting the majority of my protein from dairy, and even though I was at least 30 lbs overweight, I never lost an ounce while eating about 1,200 calories (I was an over-50 female, 5’3″ and sedentary, so eating any more than 1,200, I would immediately gain). When I realized that my body simply had a problem with dairy and I stopped eating it (going back to meat at that time), I started losing, even though I was eating more calories. Since going Paleo, I believe even stronger that healthy is individual (what works for one may not work for another), but certain things are simply BAD for everyone, and that includes processed sugar bombs like Oreos… Sigh again.

    • We certainly need nutrients. You can’t think that only breathing will provide you will enough and go on your merry way. But I think tuning in and being honest wins in the end. We know when we are starving ourselves. Being mindful helps so much. I don’t think you can eat a dozen Oreos and be fine. But being mindful about every bite will prevent you from eating too much – maybe not that session of eating them but overall being mindful will tell you to stop.

  15. This is amusing because at one time I loved to eat oreos like cereal in a bowl crunched with milk. Now I will not even touch a package. I think you are on to something with the positive and negative mental effects. We all know things that are bad for us and sometimes eat them anyway. Does it make it more posiitive if we chase it with a Prozac?

  16. Incredibly interesting and well written article! Got me and my flat mate thinking and discussing this idea. I feel mindset obviously does play a huge role in our consumption, enjoyment, gratitude of food and then there is the obvious benefit of ‘mindful’ eating boosting our general awareness and experience of day to day life, which we can take into all aspects of our life.

    But our mindset whilst eating can be a strange one, for example: Let’s say Brian is aware that Oreo cookies are not the most fantastic of food choices however, he is mindful of this and whilst eating he I aware that I his eating Oreo cookies that are not the wisest of nutritional choices. He is aware that he does not have to be perfect and always eat perfect food choices and that there will always be opportunities to make great food choices for his body and mind, he is aware that he is human and can make ‘mistakes’ and ultimately he accepts the current situation and is aware and present. So in this scenario is Brian’ mindset having positive or adverse affects on his mental state?

    I feel positive psychology is a very interesting concept and it is still in very early stages of research so as usual there are plenty of contradicting stories about this idea. If we cultivate long term awareness in many of the practices we engage in we will be grateful and present and this will probably have long term affects on how we eat: I.e. more gratitude hence less greed, more awareness so less shovelling, presence and no rush so taking time and inner awareness of how the food really tastes, how it feels after, this is all likely to lead to wiser food choices. So in the long run this kind of attitude would benefit our eating. On the flip side if all we eat are trans fats, LDL’s, triglycerides etc etc etc (Insert giant list of everything that WILL KILL YOU the second it touches your lips) and we are grateful and aware the chances are the food will still have physical and potential mental affects but this may be outweighed by the positive affects of mindfullness? However it will still have physical effects so I guess this is a case of self experimentation and balancing which seem to be a general theme in EVERYTHING!

    Finally let’s bring in Dianna, she has read this article and her brain which has a long term dependency on sugar has convinced her that she can eat whatever she likes now as long as she is grateful. This could make her happy but getting all stoic here what is happiness? Is this happiness constructive or blind, sometimes negative emotions can be useful and positive emotions can blind us to what is really going on around us.

    My general conclusion was that food is food ultimately and the nutrients/anti-nutrients will be absorbed by our body regardless of our mindset. However, the short term adverse affects that are identified frequently in the modern world could most certainly be reduced or even reversed by cultivating a day to day mindful experience. This extends far beyond eating to all areas of life but this is another subject. Anyway I digress as usual (as you can see I am still on the road from mind FULL ness to mindfullness)

    Keep up the good work man, and congrats on the nephews. Peace

    • Wow. Quite thought provoking and interesting questions! I believe that if we are honest with ourselves then we will be find. Isn’t it obvious that eating 50 Oreos won’t do you much good? If you ate this much, you would not feel well. I truly believe that the feedback our body gives us is enough to know if how are living is promoting disease or preventing it. And positive emotions definitely help prevent disease!

      • Unfortunately whilst I completely agree with all you have said here, I don’t believe that ‘Positive emotions DEFINITELY help prevent disease’.

        I know of, and have known, some incredibly positive people who have been struck down with diseases, some fatal. Once again we can draw a distinction between mental and physical conditions and say that maybe the positive mindset could lead to a positive person living with a debilitating illness could have a more beautiful and mindful experience of day to day life than someone who may be moderately physically healthy but living with mental ‘diseases’ of chronic stress, anger, constant anxiety etc etc. They also are likely to have had a more fulfilling experience whilst alive and are likely to be more grateful and positive in the event of disease which may promote recovery and optimism, so I am certainly not discarding the benefits of a positive mindset.

        Once again there is the flip side that some people seemingly survive with moderate physical health despite constant negativity and poor diet. Whether this is genetic or these people are anomolies the fact still remains that these people can live relatively disease free lives despite their mental states. I imagine that the day to day experience of life could be reduced in quality, and I would not like to live is way but there are certainly people who fit into this bracket.

        Ultimately it’s not about the length of life but the depth! I feel positive emotions surely deepen our gratitude and day to day experience which is likely to boost immune function and probably improve cell renewal etc. However, I don’t think we could categorically say that positive emotions prevent diseases.

        • I agree with you. I meant “help” as in, they have a positive impact. It’s not a guarantee that it will prevent disease but with the right attitude, your chances of getting a deadly disease decline significantly. I think we are on the same page.

          • Yeah man I imagine we are. I could probably go round in circles on this idea for weeks ha. Balancing and self experimentation is my mantra.

  17. I love this! I think many people are missing the point because you used such an extreme example (Oreos). I have a lot of “food noise” in my head throughout the day which I know isn’t doing me any favors. I might feel like I didn’t do my best because I ate an apple and cashew butter (a.k.a. Paleo junk-food) but in reality my guilt is probably more damaging to my health than the apple and cashew butter were.

  18. Wonderful post! It’s good to be accepting of different people’s approaches to their diet and wellbeing – such a welcome contrast from the sniping that goes on between rival diet camps. And it makes sense, too; we’ve been championing the diets of everyone from the Inuits to the Okinawans as being key to their health, but considering Eskimos eat mostly meat and fat while Okinawans love their rice and sweet potatoes, it’s about time someone realised that the key to health lies more with our attitude to life than our diets. (i.e. a healthy diet follows from a healthy mindset)
    Also, kudos to you and everyone else posting on this website for displaying civility in discussing your diverse views. Online discussion shouldn’t be a war of words after all.
    I came over here from Mark Sisson’s website after tiring of people trying to force a paleo diet down others’ throats, denigrating alternative views and generally being a bunch of negative dictators. This is my first online comment ever (besides Facebook), and it’s thanks to you 😀

    • Wow thanks for the kind words! I just say what I believe. I understand there is no right or wrong. There is no truth for all individuals. And attitude in all aspects of life is immensely important! Cheers to living the life you want to live!

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