As my one-year-old happily munched on her yogurt rice crisp bar the other morning, it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn't completely sure what I was feeding her. The box of bars had landed in my shopping cart a few days earlier when a few comforting words - "organic," "whole grain," and "brown rice" among them - jumped out at me, but now I was second-guessing myself. Sure, the bars were organic - but did that mean they were a healthy treat for my daughter? Was I wrong to assume "organic" translates to "good for you?"
Consumer Reports' Erin Gudeux has a nice take on this very topic in a recent Health Blog entry. The focus of her concern isn't a yogurt bar, but instead organic cheese puffs, about which she wonders how "a combination of mainly corn, fat, salt, and powdered cheese [could] be considered good for you just because it has that word on its label." She discusses studies showing that people often think organic foods are healthier and lower-calorie than they really are, and she goes on to say:
...Yes, I want my foods to be lower in pesticides. And I value the benefits of organic farming for farm workers and the environment. But I should be able to leave that out of the equation when judging whether a food should be a part of my family’s diet. Organic garbage is still garbage.
It probably isn't fair to equate my daughter's little bars (which, upon further investigation, actually are a pretty good snack) with the lowly cheese puff. But it's never a bad thing to be reminded of the importance of reading labels and not being blinded by what Gudeux calls "the 'organic' halo." And I might consider adopting her new shopping habits:
I now cover up the word “organic” when looking at a package, and focus instead on the item itself, trying to judge whether I should feed this to my family at all. That decision comes first-organic can enter the conversation later. Organic sugar still has calories. Organic oil still has fat. A cheese puff is a cheese puff -eating an organic one should still be considered an indulgence.
Photo by the_moog