I don’t know about you, but it seems to me the whole organic label is turning into the next food industry fad that reminds me of past times similar to the fat-free, or no-carb fad. Don’t get me wrong – I love organic, and I buy organic foods anytime I can. However, the problem I’m seeing these days is that people automatically assume organic is healthy – it’s not.
Not All Organic Food is Created Equally
As I walk through my health food grocery store (Whole Foods), I see all kinds of fresh organic produce. The meat section has grass-fed beef and organic chicken. The eggs sold are from free-roaming hens. It doesn’t get much better than this for your health. Then, I walk up and down the aisles and see processed food after processed food being made to look healthy. You look at the ingredients, and they’re all organic, so it must be healthy, right? Wrong.
Processed is Processed is Processed is Processed
If I wasn’t clear, a processed food is still a processed food. Sure, it may use organic ingredients, but that does not automatically make it healthy. Shopping at Whole Foods doesn’t mean you can close your eyes and pick any food they have on their shelves with the idea that it’s healthy. Organic processed food sold in a health food store gives people a false sense of health security. For example, let’s take a look at their USDA organic, non-genetically modified toaster pastries made with real fruit. Sounds healthy, doesn’t it?
Upon inspection of the food label ingredients, we can see that these pastries have nearly the same ingredients as the “bad” pastries. The only difference is it’s organic. Sure, there are some improvements. They don’t have high fructose corn syrup, but they do have powdered sugar and dextrose. The number one ingredient is wheat flour, not whole wheat flour, which means the majority of the wheat grain has been refined. There are plenty of other processed ingredients in the list too (starches, palm oil, etc).
Does Organic Processed Food Have Its Place?
Sure, it has its place, as long as you completely understand that you’re still eating a processed food, and there are health consequences to that decision. Is it better than its non-organic cousins? Probably. Here is how I view the healthiness of food listed in order of worst to best:
- regular processed food products
- organic processed food products
- conventional whole foods
- organic whole foods
Make sense? A conventional whole food will always beat out a processed food whether it’s made with organic ingredients or not. I could just as easily make organic candy by using organic processed sugar. That certainly isn’t healthy, and I wouldn’t doubt that food marketers will be doing that someday if not already. After all, they already slap the “fat-free” label on candy and say it’s vegetarian, as if that’s supposed to automatically make it healthy now.
Shop the Perimeter
For the most part, if you shop the perimeter of your grocery store you’ll be getting 90% of what’s healthy there. Pick foods that have few ingredients on the label. Or better yet, pick foods that have no labels on them at all. That’s almost a sure bet that it’s a whole, healthy food.
Don’t get caught up in the organic craze. Be conscientious of what you’re buying. Marketers will do or say whatever they can to get you to buy their product. Right now, the consumer wants organic, and they are going to take all the shortcuts they possibly can to be able to slap that “USDA organic” label on their product and call it healthy. Buy and eat whole foods.