Cutting the organic hype

For many of us the word organic conjures up images of wholesomeness, health, clean ingredients and superior nutrition.

While many will agree that organic food in general is a better choice, is it really?

Well, that depends.

Organic produce, grains, legumes and meats can be nutritionally superior to non-organic varieties. Certified organic foods must contain at least 95 per cent organic content, which can help us to avoid unwanted GMOs and synthetic pesticides that have been shown to have questionable health effects.

But when it comes to boxed and processed foods or treats versus non-organic varieties, the differences are minimal at most.

Buying organic boxed foods may offer you less exposure to some additives, preservatives and food dyes.

But simply put, processed snacks and treats are often lacking in nutritional value, regardless of the organic logo. And it is misguided to think that just because a processed food is labelled as organic that it should be regarded as a healthy snack, or worse yet, a good alternative to fresh non-organic produce.

There is evident misuse of and misconceptions about the organic label everywhere, especially in regards to sweet treats and children’s snacks.

This was illustrated well in a comic I saw the other day that summed it all up. It showed a child eating a slice of decadent chocolate cake with the caption, “It’s ok … it’s organic.”

While it is true that an organic processed food often contains organically grown items such as sugar, wheat or vegetable oils, this does not automatically mean that food is nutritionally superior to a non-organic item of the same variety.

In fact, most of these sugars, fats and salts will be processed in exactly the same way no matter what foods they come from. Your body does not differentiate.

Organic food is big business. According to statistics from Dalhouise’s agricultural department, Canadians spend over $3 billion per year on certified organic food, and this figure is growing every year.

Overall, this is good news. Organic products such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, meats and grains should be a part of our diet.

Not only do these foods provide income for our organic farmers, but more importantly they preserve the health of our environment and maintain the integrity of our future seeds.

Nevertheless, due to an increased interest in our health and large corporate advertising campaigns, we are still often misled by the big food companies.

Many organic processed snack foods are marketed to appear as a healthier food item to be included in our diets. It is easy to see how one could be deceived by a processed snack food box that displays prominent green lettering, rolling pastures and the ever-so-comforting organic logo.

There are many varieties of deceivingly healthy-looking organic processed foods on the shelves today geared to our children including granola bars, dried fruit snacks, cookies, mini cakes, pretzels, etc … Many are excessively high in sugar, fat and salt and offer little to no nourishment – similar to the non- organic variety.

Organic produce provides many health benefits and should make up a large part of our diet when possible. But when it comes to processed and highly refined snacks and treats don’t be swayed by the organic logo. After all, no matter how you slice it, cake is still cake … organic or not.


Sheila Ream, CNP, is a certified nutritionist in the Beach

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