We admit we're frequent victims of the coffeeshop pastry pitfall. We swing by for a quick nonfat latte but end up walking out with some chocolatey croissantpoundcakemuffin that puts our carb intake way over the edge. This is why we were particularly pleased (if not a little stunned) to discover Gourmet Lites cookies on our last trip to Kaldi in Atwater Village.

It's in our nature to be distrustful. Typically “diet” food is either 1) pretty unappetizing (think fat free mayonnaise) or 2) high in unwholesome chemicals (has Olestra taught us nothing?) Yet this seemed to be neither. There had to be some cancer-causing catch here. This cookie was not just “good.” It was luscious. How were they doing this? We got so curious we called the company.

It turns out Gourmet Lites is an evolution of sorts for Gourmet Treats, a Torrance-based company founded by Shaffin Jinnah about 10 years ago. Though it began as a typical bakery, Shaffin's diabetes led him to begin looking for ways to make his goods healthier. Today, in the form of his Gourmet Lites line, the company focuses on using local, more natural ingredients to make a cookie that is, if not exactly good for you, definitely not so bad. By using ingredients such as raw cane juice, fruit juice, egg whites and nonfat milk powder, these jumbo cookies, which come in a wide variety of flavors, manage to be about the size of your open palm, yet up to 95% fat free. They also have no refined sugar, no cholesterol and are significantly lower in calories than your typical bakery dessert. (Half the cookie is about 190 calories, and that's all we could eat in one sitting.)

Gourmet Treats told us it's all about precise concoction. So they explained, the typical low-fat baking substitutes (applesauce, raisin paste, etc.) not only change the texture of cookies, but also make them taste particularly “apple-ish” or “raisin-y.” As an alternative, Shaffin developed a propriety fruit juice mix that changes depending on the flavor of the cookie. This keeps the cookies moist and tasting freshly baked. As a taste-tester, we can tell you he speaks the truth. What we found most enjoyable about the Snickerdoodle we picked up was not just its unadulterated sweet taste but the dense, chewy, almost caramel-like bite we got out of it. Genuinely, if we hadn't seen the label, we would have no idea this cookie was light on anything.

Gourmet Treats has also developed a line of SB12 compliant cookies, muffins, and cakes for school programs in the L.A. area. They're also working to expand the products into other alternative segments such as all-natural, whole grain and vegan.

As for us, we've found our new coffee sidekick. You can find Gourmet Lites at Nordstrom Espresso Bars, as well as in many local shops around L.A., including Bob's Market in Santa Monica, Splurge in Beverly Hills and Down Under in Century City.

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