Nana's Cookie Co. packs products with a healthier punch

Healthy cookies sound too good to be true? Or something that couldn't possibly taste very good?

Miriam Diamond is baking sweet dreams into tasty reality at Nana's Cookie Co.

"We use the best ingredients, the best flavors," Diamond said. "The challenge is educating people about eating properly and that it does not have to taste like cardboard."

Eating well doesn't mean having to give up all things sweet, but avoiding refined sugar that sends the body's energy levels on a roller coaster ride, robbing nutrients along the way."

Instead of refined sugar, Diamond uses fruit juice to sweeten her cookies and bars. The natural sugars still provide a bit of a boost, but with a more gradual decline.

Besides refined sugar, there is a long list of other products never used in Nana's cookies.

"We're all natural, we're vegan, which scares people," Diamond said.

So instead of saying the "v" word, the packaging lists Nana's No's: refined sugar, dairy, eggs, trans fat, cholesterol, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, cane or beet products and genetically modified organisms.

The cookies are not fat-free, but the few grams in there come from healthy sources such as nuts, chocolate and expeller-pressed canola oil.

"You still need something- that snack or treat," Diamond said. "For the same $2 or $1, why not have something that is satisfying and healthy?"

The native New Yorker began paying closer attention to food when she had her two children some 40 years ago.

"There was nothing I could feed my children that was healthy," she said. "What went in their lunch boxes was awful."

Diamond founded and ran a health food cooperative in Long Island for more than 20 years. She would make healthy snacks for her children, but it was not until she moved to Solana Beach in 1992 that she began creating a healthy cookie for wider distribution.

"I like to bake," Diamond said. "I knew what ingredients I wanted to use; it was just a matter of putting the right percentages together."

Diamond drove her big cookies store to store, and with the help of a New York distributor she knew from her co-op days, Nana's started to grow.

Nana's now offers more than 30 products, including big cookies, cookie bites, cookie bars and "O" Mega fiber cookie bars. Classic flavors such as chocolate chip, oatmeal and peanut butter are joined by fun varieties such as Ginger Spice, Fudgy Wudgy and Nana Banana.

Nana's also offers a complete line of no wheat and no gluten cookies and bars, inspired by customers who called asking for a healthy cookie for their children with food allergies.

The no gluten line made big Nana's fans out of celebrities Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, who advocate no gluten diets in their autism campaign, Generation Rescue. Madonna was also an early fan of Nana's, having the cookies shipped to England before they were available overseas.

At first, Nana's was only available in health food stores including Jimbo's ... Naturally!, Whole Foods and Henry's. Now, the kitchen crew, which often includes Diamond (someone has to do quality control), mixes, bakes and packages 100,000 cookies a day, which are shipped nationwide and overseas. Traditional grocery stores are now also carrying the cookies, including Ralphs and Gelson's.

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