The organic label serves a huge purpose, it just doesn’t serve EVERY purpose. The trick is knowing how to use it.
The USDA organic seal means you are getting a product that is free of harmful pesticides and GMOs. This is a great tool to use when buying fruits, veggies, grains and nuts. This lets us know we are buying a cleaner product than conventionally grown alternatives. For example, 52 pesticide residues were found on conventional lettuce by the USDA Pesticide Data Program (3 being known or probable carcinogens). Buying organic means you are not exposing yourself to this level of toxins.
Going organic with veg is great but sometimes organic does not always equal healthiest option. I want to talk about USDA certified organic processed foods like salad dressings, breads, condiments and cookies. Seeing that organic circle ensures that, same as above, no toxic pesticides or GMOs are used in the processed product but often your salad dressings and packaged cookies do not have lettuce, nuts, rice or tomatoes in them so what does organic mean here?
I am using some examples of foods I found at Whole Foods but these examples apply to any grocery store and any brand.
Lets take a look!
Organic Salad Dressing
Here we have an example of an organic salad dressing. Let’s see what we are actually buying.
Vegtable oil: A whole bunch of refined vegetable or canola oil. The body needs healthy oils and fats for survival. An example of a good fat is cold pressed olive oil that has not been heated or treated with chemicals. “These refined oils [canola, vegetable, hydrogenated, margarine] are “cleaned” with chemicals and heated to a very high temperature during processing.”- Nourishing Traditions
Lose the added chemicals and instead look for these fats:
- Animal fats from animals raised on pasture under humane conditions.
- Plant derived fats grown organically and cold pressed without chemicals.
Whole egg and buttermilk: organic yes but lacking in full vitamin and nutrient potential as these animals were most likely not pastured.
Xanthan gum: Xanthan gum is one of the exceptions in organic labeling and not required to be organic. There are many exceptions and you can see them all here. “Xanthan gum is a largely indigestible polysaccharide that is produced by bacteria called Xanthomonas Camestris.” It is produced by bacterial fermentation of usually soy, corn, wheat or dairy – which also do not need to be organic. And because just about 95% of corn and soy are GMO you can assume that applies here too. According to Chris Kesser there is not a huge amount of evidence either way of the dangers or safety of eating xanthan gum but honestly – do you really want to eat this? What is the health benefit?
I’m not saying this salad dressing is going to kill you but I am saying it is pretty much nutritionally void. The point is to be aware that the organic label is not a good buying tool for something like this. Organic or not, this product does not have a lot to offer in terms of nutrition.
A healthier alternative? Make your own. So easy and so tasty.
- 1/2 cup PGI EVOO like Kasandrinos.
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 1 Tbsp dijon or whole grain mustard
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- juice of 1/2 lemon
Mix all of these together in a mason jar and shake until incorporated and enjoy. Leave on the counter for a week or two. Play with adding fresh or dried herbs. Makes an awesome chicken marinade or in a quinoa salad.
Let’s look at another example.
Again, refined, chemically cleaned, canola oil city. A similar example to the salad dressing. Not a very nutritionally dense product and the organic certification is not a good buying tool or indicator that this is a healthier mayo. Who cares if your “junk” is certified organic – it’s still junk!
Also, what the heck is “natural flavor” – huge issue with this. Just say what it is, we want transparency.
This is a great example of when to choose non-organic over organic. Look at these ingredients!!! We know every single one of them and they are all whole foods. No fillers, gums, refined oils, added sugars or “natural flavors”. The biggest compromise here is the non-organic avocado which turns out not to be much of a compromise at all. Avocados are #1 on the EWG’s Clean Fifteen list with only 1% of all avocados tested showing detectable pesticides.
The EWG’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen list is a great tool that helps buyers make informed decisions.
USDA EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce recognizes that many people who want reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce cannot find or afford an all-organic diet. It helps them seek out conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that tend to test low for pesticide residues. –EWG.org
According to the EWG, in 2013 USDA tests found 165 different pesticides on thousands of fruit and vegetable samples. Some fruits and veg tested lower than others. You can check out the details on their website. This list is updated annually.
Let’s talk organic cookies!
Enriched wheat flour, added sugar, refined oils, more sugar and soy lecithin.
What are we actually eating here? Flower that has been stripped of any redeeming nutrition, oils that have been treated with high heat and chemically cleaned and some sugar. Who cares if these ingredients are organic!? Not healthy!
As an alternative, try making no-bakes! These are filled with healthy fats and whole food proteins. They fill bellies and contribute to healthy body function.
- 1 cup pecans
- 1 cup dates
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp fresh ginger
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons of almond butter
Blend all ingredients in a food processor, roll into balls and keep in the fridge. This recipe is from Lee From America – So good and they taste like chocolate munchkins – no joke!
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is don’t buy based on the organic symbol ONLY. “Organic” is not necessarily synonymous with “healthy.”
Save your money for organic fruits, veg, nuts and grains.
Try your hand at homemade alternatives like salad dressings and cookies.
Read labels and understand what you are buying.