Are ORGANIC Packaged Foods Healthier?

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Truth Time. That's me right there and I'm not scared to admit it: I love Annie's organic macaroni.

(I've even been known to carry a box of it around in my huge shag rug purse. #pocketsnacks are a #nutritionistproblem!)

But after a week of broccoli, cabbage, brown or wild rice, peppers, swiss chard  and other veggie favourites, sometimes a good bowl of hot macaroni really balances things out. (or a hot steak?)

[No, I'm not Vegan]

The Marketing Trickery: Even though packaged foods can have labels on them like "natural" or "organic" and use organic ingredients in them, can we still trust that they are good for us? How do they compare to real food?

Suddenly, we come to the truth of eating. You always have a choice.

But where our choices fall don't mean we are a 'good person' for choosing a salad or a 'bad person' for choosing a drive-through burger. Our choices simply just take us where we (consciously or not) choose to go.

For instance, our conscious goal when driving through the drive-through may be "I already feel like crap, so I don't care if I eat crap right now."

          I'm a free agent nutritionist and not connected or affiliated with              Annie's Homegrown in any way. Click the photo to read why I do              choose their macaroni over any other packaged food available.

        I'm a free agent nutritionist and not connected or affiliated with              Annie's Homegrown in any way. Click the photo to read why I do              choose their macaroni over any other packaged food available.

Our unconscious goal might be the fact that we haven't been educated about why drive-thru's aren't the best quality foods for our body.

[Quick Guide to Fats & Oils]  [5 Reasons You Need Whole Foods]

So we are unconscious as we go through, because we simply don't know. And that is fair. My job as a Holistic Nutritionist is to be educating and sharing. My agenda is for everyone to feel good - and while drive-thru can be a temporary and quick fix to the problem of being hungry - it doesn't feel good when we do it regularly. Our body will tell us this numerous ways - heart burn, upset stomach, irritable bowels (alternating diarrhea/constipation) or other symptoms like headaches or fatigue. But we don't always listen at that time. We may blame it on something else or just accept it as our new normal. You always have the choice to become conscious of your choices - that's key.

But when it comes to our body symptoms especially in regards to digestion, always consider the food.

How do they stack up?

The truth is that organic packaged foods while marketed to us as healthy will still be lacking vitamins, minerals and enzymes. They aren't fresh, they aren't technically real food. While lacking some of the 'ickies' that conventional packaged foods contain, like artificial flavours, synethic colors and numerous preservatives, the bottom line is that organic packaged foods are still packaged foods. Are they better? Yes. Are they the best? No.

Another layer to contemplate is, is this food really organic? Different people have different standards of what organic means to them. Some people feel that if its not fresh food, it cannot be organic. Some companies choose to use labels and then get busted later for not being truthful. The only way you can ALWAYS be sure is to grow your own food (or align yourself to shop at places who know the farmers who grow!), but we don't all have time for that lifestyle, do we? We know how these foods stack up - we're putting our faith in the company for the purchase in hopes that it's better than a conventional version but at the end of the day, it's still not a whole food.

How do we know which packaged foods are healthier?

When moving to a whole foods diet, we don't need to avoid canned or boxed foods 100%. We are still going to want to occasionally enjoy rice crackers, canned beans or peas, organic soups or granola bars and we can still have these while we have our whole foods diet. It just means we don't need them every single day or rely on our diet to be fully packaged/canned/frozen.

We know which packaged foods are healthier when we read the whole label - not just the front where the marketing hangs out  - and look for the least amount of ingredients, no strange additives (especially palm oil, a horrible offender!)  and use your best discretion. Perhaps there is another way to 'get your fix' of this food you're looking at.

(Some other options: Is it for a party? Get a caterer. Is it for a birthday? Get healthy cheezecake. Was there an emotional trigger and you're looking for comfort food? Talk to me, babe.)

An Easy Solution: There is a scale I use with clients called the Neutral/Better/Best scale. We're going to leave drive-thru fast food out of the equation, since it doesn't quite make the list at either end.

Neutral

packaged foods  (eg: KD, frozen dinners, instant mashed potatoes, canned chickpeas)

Better

organic packaged foods  (eg. organic pasta, organic prepared foods, organic beans/peas)

Best

homemade, organic whole foods  (eg. soaked + cooked whole grains + beans, homemade soups with lentils, steamed/roasted vegetables and fresh fruits)

Using the Scale

The neutral, better, best scale allows us to categorize foods based on their QUALITY rather than their numbers. Most of us have been trained to count, scale (not necessary at all) or otherwise stress about our food. This scale is faster and easier. Neutral is anything that is NOT organic and packaged - it's foods we don't want to survive on, but we aren't "bad" for choosing them occasionally as we learn to upgrade our diet. The 'better' foods include anything from the natural foods aisle that is not a whole food but is made from whole foods. and best is anything that we make ourselves at home using only foods from nature (which is ideal for huge nutrient intake!)

The Difference

Organic packaged foods cannot technically be classified 'clean eating' as clean eating means healthy (free range/organic) meat, fresh vegetables and whole grains. Foods from nature. While organic packaged foods do have a layer of frustration (they've taken our movement and marketed it)* to persuade customers using all the right terms, but aren't following strict guidelines or having profits over people, they are also a good bridge to those of us who are still developing our diets.** Moving from KD to organic mac and cheese may not be revolutionary, but it's a step in the right direction.

My love of Annie's isn't going away. I know there are better foods I could choose, and I have my mac n' cheese as a treat. I also like to practice what I preach, and an 80/20 diet of healthy and not-so-healthy foods is my ideal. It's a flexible diet that I love and that works for me.

Using the scale and your best judgement for occasional treats as you discover what balance looks like to you is the best way to deal with this. Quality over numbers! [Nutrition Culture]

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* "Don't let those swill merchants rewrite you" - watch for organic packaged foods that are a cheap knock-off; even if the front of the box says all the right words, check the ingredients. Unpronounceable words, added sugars or a high amount of ingredients (15+) are red flags. Organic packaged foods by massive corporations who do not specialize in organic foods are of concern.

** "Stepping stones" are those phases we go through as we upgrade our diet, diets we try or foods we get hooked on. How long we'll be in one phase depends on many factors like our wellness goals, financial factors and time. If your tired of spinning your wheels, I'm here for you! Talk to me! I can help.

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