Organic Junk Food is Healthier !?

When it comes to health halos, arguably the biggest one is “Organic”. Please don’t get us wrong, the organic food movement is fantastic, and eating organic food has a multitude of benefits – health, social, and ecological. However, the term “organic” has been hijacked by the processed food industry to the point where junk food is deemed healthful simply because it is organic.

Don’t believe us?

Check out an experiment carried out at Cornell University by graduate student Jenny Wan-chen, who discovered that

…cookies and chips have fewer calories, less fat and more fiber when they are organic.

She discovered this myth when she offered 144 mall shoppers samples of yogurt, chips and chocolate sandwich cookies. Each shopper was given two samples of each food — one that was supposedly organic and one that was allegedly of the conventional variety. After tasting the food pairs, the shoppers were asked to score both samples on a 9-point scale for qualities including taste and fat content. Wan-chen also asked the shoppers to estimate how many calories were in each food.

Overall, shoppers consistently said the organic foods were tastier. They also estimated that the organic foods had more fiber, less fat and fewer calories. They even said they’d be willing to pay more for the “organic” snacks than the “regular” ones. Read more from the Los Angeles Times…

What you need to know:

“Organic” slapped on a processed food product does not immediately imply “healthy”. Take Health Valley Organic for example. They make products such as the Organic Multigrain Strawberry Cobbler Cereal Bars pictured above.

Here is the ingredient list:

Strawberry filling (organic cane juice, organic apple powder, organic strawberries, organic rice starch, natural flavor, pectin, citric acid, red cabbage extract for color), organic flours (organic wheat, organic oat, organic corn), organic cane juice, organic expeller pressed canola oil and/or sunflower oil and/or safflower oil, organic oat fiber, organic wheat bran, organic wheat gluten, organic inulin, natural flavors, organic honey, organic nonfat dry milk, organic butter flavor, cream of tartar, baking soda, organic acacia gum, soy lecithin, sea salt.

The pros:

  • no artificial colorings
  • No trans-fats

The cons:

  • Mostly added sugar – 4 teaspoons per bar. Organic Cane Juice is a fancy name for sugar.
  • refined flours provide very little fiber
  • The fiber is added using  inulin

As you can see, this seemingly healthy cereal bar is actually closer to a candy bar than a healthy snack. Organic junk food is still junk food. It may be a little less unhealthy that its conventional equivalent, but it’s still not a health food.

What to do at the supermarket:

Don’t fall for health halos. Read the nutrition label and the ingredient list.

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  • Elissa Joy

    I find it amazing that so many things can be listed as Organic and be so horrible for you.. it is not dissimilar to the Gluten Free label, or the Fat Free labels. Anything in a package need to be looked at pretty closely to see that it is indeed healthy for you. ( And I have to say that often the non organic equivalents have less sugar in them more often than not). Crazy.

    Thanks for bringing this important issue to light! ( I was just going to write a blog post about this myself today when I saw your post on FB! Synchronicity )

    Peace and light
    Elissa Joy

  • Miranda

    THANK YOU for pointing out this very simple fact! Unfortunately, many people are so nutrition information deficient that they think “health food” has no calories! I am so pleased by your efforts to “FOODUCATE” folks! 5 stars! : )

  • Anon

    Wait — “It may be a little less unhealthy that its conventional equivalent” — what? How?

    • Charlotte

      Because they do not contain artificial dyes linked to ADHD and cancer. They do not contain HFCS, which has been questioned to be worse for the body than regular suger. (Youtube: Sugar the bitter truth) And they do not contain partially hydrogonated anything, which has been shown to be FAR worse for the body than regular fat.

      • Jomiller11

        they do contain things that may be worse

  • Nancy – The Frugal dietitian

    Many examples…..I am NOT sold on organic to begin with for the most part. Many products do NOT use whole grains in their products. Annie’s products is an example that I use for my patients/clients.

  • Dan DiBacco

    Fantastic insight. As is to be expected, big business will always try to capitalize on the latest trends for their benefit.

  • Foodie, Formerly Fat

    Is this product better than eating some strawberries over a bowl of slow cooked oatmeal? Absolutely not. Is this product better that eating a Nutragrain Strawberry Cereal Bar? Absolutely yes. The Nutragrain bars have either sugar or high fructose corn syrup on the ingredient list 5 times, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and an outrageous number of added chemicals.

    Of course, this product you’ve highlighted isn’t a “health food” but when making the choice to have a cereal bar this one is definitely still the lesser of two evils.

    I love your mission and I tend to be in 100% agreement with you most of the time, but I’m going to go here with the benefit of harm reduction since elimination isn’t always attainable.

    While it might be the “best” choice not to have a cereal bar at all, let’s not throw away better because it’s not perfection.

  • Mamasimpson4

    I’m not a fan of ‘natural flavor’.

  • Mamasimpson4

    I’m not a fan of ‘natural flavor’.

  • Mamasimpson4

    I’m not a fan of ‘natural flavor’.

  • Mamasimpson4

    I’m not a fan of ‘natural flavor’.

  • Lisa

    Blah. I’d rather put the honey on a whole grain bagel and have some real strawberries!

  • Penny

    It’s great to point out what labels mean, and that not all that appears to be healthy is, BUT there are laws about what can be labeled ‘organic’ right? So this might not be the best example. I would take more exception to the name “Health Valley” than to the ‘organic’ part. Organic is a definition, and the food either meets that criteria or it doesn’t. On the other hand, Health Valley is a name that is potentially misleading. And of course the onus is always (as it should be) on the consumer to “fooducate” themselves.

  • Dalai Lina

    Junk food is junk food, agree. But, if I had to by a box of granola bars, I would opt for an organic brand.

  • Mr. Bill

    Blah! I hate these breakfast bar things, organic or not. They always leave me unsatisfied. Then I remember them cost me money! My stomach and wallet prefer toast.

    BTW, does anyone else get annoyed with the use of the term “sea salt”? I am not aware of any other salt sources that were not part of the sea at one time. Either mined from a 100 million year old dreid sea bed under Nebraska or just evaporated from the San Fransico Bay. It is all the same!

  • Lauren

    While cane juice is a fancy name for sugar it is a much healthier sugar choice than white, processed sugar. Cane juice actually has phytonutrients, vitamins & minerals (so does sucanet, honey, agave, coconut sweetener, and maple syrup). While it still should be consumed in moderation, I would consider this type of sugar a healthy treat option.

  • Sigh

    Organic junk food is still junk food… and unprocessed junk food is still junk food, too!