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This article continues the ‘Organic June Series’. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here. We’ve covered a few different angles about organic food from how it’s made, why it’s better for the planet along with some practical tips to get started. In fact, it’s quite hard to find a case against living an organic life other than maybe the expense. But is organic food better for you? Is it a certain route to health? You might be surprised to hear the answer is actually NO! Let us explain….
Is organic food better for you?
It’s an important question to ask with an equally important answer. Organic as a method of production is 100% better for you. It means less pesticides, better care for the ingredient (animal or grain), more nourishment and overall a healthier product. Not to mention, it also protects wildlife, supports the soil and the planet overall. However, you need to take caution not to assume that everything you buy organic is automatically healthy. So when you ask is organic food better for you, the blanket answer is no.
Take organic sugar – yes organic means it’s less processed, but sugar is still sugar. What you don’t see is that multinationals have realised how much value a consumer places on the word ‘organic’, much like others including ‘vegan’, ‘raw’, ‘homemade’, ‘whole’ and so on. These words can be very leading. They imply the product to be healthy and in many ways it may very well be but there is more to a label than meets the eye….
The Food Label
The label is an extremely important source of information for the consumer but few know how to read one let alone what to look for. Some of us go off calories alone or fat alone. Others look for key words like ‘low fat’ or ‘no added sugar’. And finally some work off allergen/dietary guidance like ‘gluten free’ or ‘vegan’ or ‘dairy free’. While each of these words has a meaning, they don’t necessarily indicate the product to be healthy or good for you. Sugar may be vegan but it’s still sugar. A gluten free cake is still a piece of cake at the end of the day. And just because a thickener or preservative is GF/Vegan or whatever doesn’t mean it’s automatically OK to eat.
There are different opinions on how to read a food label, especially if you favour a low fat/low carb diet but some general tips:
- Check the amount of ingredients and how many you can recognise. As always, the less ingredients the better. If you don’t know what E100 and so forth, then how can your body? Note that the ‘free from’ products are sometimes the worst culprits because it takes a lot more effort to make these foods look like the ‘real’ stuff. Try to buy foods with under five ingredients when possible.
- Check for sugar – sugar on a food label has over 50 different names, many of which you can recognise and some which may not be so clear. The easy way to avoid having sugar at the top of the food label is to use different varieties. So you might notice that one item has things like date syrup, maple syrup, brown sugar, agave all in the one food label. This happens with ‘natural’ foods too!
- Customers can be duped by words. A product labelled ‘natural’ or ‘no added sugar’ and so on does not reveal the full story. Yes, a label must reflect what is in the package. But there are ways to be sneaky!
‘Organic’ as seen on a label
A product displaying the ‘organic’ symbol is subject to following some strict rules.
- First and foremost, they need to be registered with one of the organic control bodies.
- Then, the product needs to contain at least 95% organic ingredients.
- Finally you will notice organic products contain a specific logo like the one below. As the EU website states: “The main objective of the European logo is to make organic products easier to be identified by the consumers. Furthermore it gives a visual identity to the organic farming sector..”.
Example Number 1:
Here is a simple example of an organic product ingredient list:
Dates* Cashews* Apple* Date Syrup* Raisins* Cinnamon* (*Organic)
Notice that dates are the first ingredient and date syrup further down. So while every ingredient in this list is ‘organic’, the overall product is extremely rich in natural sugars. One the one hand, dates have a lot of minerals and vitamins and are a great sugar alternative. On the other hand, many ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ brands rely on dried fruit for the bulk of their product in order to achieve a desired sweetness. This means your natural bar is actually quite a concentrated source of sugar. While this is fine as an occasional snack, the problem is that not only do terms like ‘organic’ make us believe that the food is better for us, it usually also means we eat an awful lot more of it than we need.
Watch out for fibre: Fibre helps to slow down energy release and balance your blood sugar so always try to get more where possible. The bar mentioned above contained 18g of carbs with only 1.8g of fibre….very little.
Word of warning: A brand using words like ‘Organic’ / ‘Natural Sugars’ can still be loaded with sugar!
Example Number 2:
Here is the second example of ingredients:
Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Rolled Oats, Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Rice Flour, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soy Flour, Organic Oat Fiber, Cocoa, Cocoa Butter, Organic Date Paste, Organic Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Soy Flour, Sea Salt, Barley Malt Extract, Organic Vanilla Extract, Soy Lecithin.
On the front the bar states ‘made with organic oats’.
Notice there are a number of organic ingredients in the list, there are also a lot of non-organic ones. Not only that, but you can see the hidden sugar in the form of rice syrup, cane syrup, dried cane syrup, date paste and malt extract. Remember there are over 50 names for sugar which means that a clever way to hide it is to use multiple sources on the ingredient list.
Word of warning: This is an example of clever marketing. On the front they place the slogan ‘made with organic oats’ and that word ‘organic’ is very enticing. More importantly, the image on the packaging is very symbolic of health, nature and the slogan just boosts the product. But when you investigate the label and ingredients, you uncover a different story.
iRaw and Is Organic Food Better For You?
Creating a functional product that maximises nutrient value was a key factor for Asa when developing the iRaw range. At iRaw, you will find that the products are free from soy, free from date paste and free from any processed ingredients. In fact, our full range uses only certified organic ingredients.
When it comes to dried fruit and adding sweeteners, we only use medjool dates in their original form. We also use as little as we can get away with to maximise the health benefits in each product. At the end of the day, most of use take in plenty of carbohydrates and/or sugar (natural or added) from our usual diet and therefore at iRaw, we want our products to add micro nutrition and purity as nature intended.