The Siren Song of Organic

Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP s...

Labeling for products that meet the USDA-NOP standards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my students was enjoying an afternoon snack this past week – a protein/energy bar marketed for kids. After he finished, I took a look at the label. I had to chuckle when I read the second ingredient: organic white coating. This mysterious coating contained sugar, fats, waxes, and emulsifiers. Not exactly a healthy food.

We have a tendency to think of organic as an indication of whole, healthy foods. In reality, organic is a legal designation that a food is grown without certain chemicals and has not been genetically modified. It is also an indication of the size and wealth of the company behind the product. It is expensive to obtain the “organic” designation and many smaller growers and companies are not able to afford the label.

Organic (whether officially designated or not) can be better for you. Organic produce frequently has a higher concentration of nutrients, especially if it is consumed soon after harvesting (i.e. sourced locally). If the organic produce had to travel far to reach your table, you may be better off with fruits and vegetables from your local farmer’s market or co-op, even if they are not labeled “organic.”

When it comes to packaged foods, however, don’t fall for the siren song of organic. Look at the ingredients first and then consider their source.If the product contains wheat, corn or soy, three of the most genetically modified foods, in large amounts, then you may want to choose an organic option. Otherwise, the label is more likely a marketing ploy than a true indication of nutrition.

Remember that there is often an inverse relationship between the advertising dollars spent promoting a product and the healthfulness of the food. If a company is trying too hard to convince you that their food is healthy, it probably isn’t:)

Personally, I’d rather have a non-organic apple than organic white coating.

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