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Suzanne Martinson: With oatmeal cookies, 'heart-check' needs a reality check

Sunday, August 06, 2000

Half asleep, I reached for the box of oatmeal. Not for me the instant stuff, which feels as if the life has been punched out of it. I grew up with horses -- I like to crunch like one.

Removing the lid, I spotted the American Heart Association "heart-check" seal of approval. This ticked me off, because I don't approve of supposedly objective health organizations selling their names to food companies. Cranky critic that I am, I'm in the definite minority. An AHA survey found that 88 percent of consumers find it "helpful" for the Heart Association to certify products and put its name on packages. In this case, it set the smiling Quaker back about $5,000.

For this, the Heart Association tells us that a serving of oatmeal has less than 20 mg of cholesterol (oats are a plant; only animal products contain cholesterol), less than 3 grams of fat (some granolas do have lots of fat) and at least 10 percent of the daily requirement for a nutrient (in oatmeal, it's iron and fiber).

The front of the box has a government-approved claim: "Three grams of soluble fiber from oatmeal daily, in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. This cereal has 2 grams per cup."

The operative words here are "in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol." This phrase alerts us that even oatmeal is no magic bullet, though we'd like to believe the contrary.

Once I'd flipped the top, a recipe for Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies caught my eye. It so happened that I needed something to take to a potluck for our church's youth group that very night. This recipe looked so simple that I figured I could easily make it before work.

Even better, there was an option for making bar cookies, which fit nicely into my schedule. While my dog was walking me, the cookies could bake. More and more, it was seeming as if, as Wilford Brimley tells us on the TV ad, baking oatmeal cookies was "the right thing to do."

My typical response to any "blondie" is to reach for the chocolate chips. This recipe, which has 3 cups of oatmeal, calls for 1 cup raisins. Though I'm not a raisin lover -- my mantra has always been that when something is small and black, it ought to be a chocolate chip -- I figured this one time, I'd go for the nutritious raisins. Besides, my raisins were golden.

Raisins are an OK source of fiber, and 1 1/2 ounces is equivalent to a serving of fruit. (Unfortunately, to get that much, a person would have to eat a quarter of the cookies. Not bad, maybe, if you need calories for a cross-country bike trip.)

As Socks the Australian shepherd and I bounced around the circle, I started running ideas through my mind about, well, let's call it, garnishing the bars. They had looked kind of plain when I popped the pan in the oven. Gilding the lily, that's what I do best. Take, say, a carrot cake, which would not be quite as fat-laden without the cream cheese frosting. Not as delicious, either. I once went a little too far in the gilding, however, when I made a chocolate carrot cake.

Spontaneous baking requires a certain support system. For instance, the butter needed to be softened. No problem: 30 to 40 seconds in the microwave. The cookies went together quickly in my macho mixer, and I didn't even have to grease the pan.

Let's see, I could throw on a few edible flowers, if I were any kind of a gardener, which I'm not. I ended up with a sprinkling of butterscotch chips, which I added with about 5 minutes left in the cooking time. They didn't stick well. Fat-conscious eaters can simply shake them off. I feel a little guilty, but hey, the oatmeal-raisin combo just may be a cure-all, after all. Direct all questions to the Heart Association. Just kidding.

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (we used dark)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups uncooked oatmeal
1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Stir in oats and raisins (we used golden). Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack. Makes about 4 dozen.

Bar cookies: Bake 30 to 35 minutes in ungreased 13-by-9-inch metal baking pan.

Nutritional content per cookie: 100 calories, 4 grams fat, 75 mg sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

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