Just because it’s organic or gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy

Just because it's organic or gluten-free doesn't mean it's healthy

Alex Twiss and Neily


I love educating people and increasing nutrition awareness with label reading, ingredient lists, etc. The main theme of my message at a Southwest Airlines health fair was—just because it’s organic or gluten-free or comes from a health food store does not guarantee healthfulness.

Here are a few examples focusing on organic and gluten-free.

The gluten-free bandwagon

Numerous people have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon for reasons that boggle my mind. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel had a very humorous ‘pedestrian question’ segment asking people if they ate gluten-free and then asking them to define it. The answers were comical. Granted there is a segment of the population that has a condition called celiac disease. It’s an autoimmune disease where there is no cure but the disease can be managed by a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and a whole host of products need to be avoided.

Some people are gluten ‘intolerant’ or gluten ‘sensitive’ and feel better when eliminating gluten containing products. I get that. But another segment of the population is following a gluten-free diet for weight loss. Read my interview with Shelley Rael as we discuss.

Traditional Pop-Tart and a gluten-free alternative still have the same amount of sugar.

Traditional Pop-Tart and a gluten-free alternative still have the same amount of sugar.

But let’s compare a few products. Each packet of sugar represents one teaspoon. On the left is a traditional Pop Tart—a product I would never recommend mind you. On the right is the gluten-free ‘toaster pastry’ counterpart. They both have roughly the same amount of added sugar and interestingly the first ingredient in the GF product is sugar—disguised as ‘strawberry filling.’ Bottom line? They’re both junk foods. Look at the ingredient panels. I’ve underlined the sources of sugar.


Here is another example of a gluten-free product. I love the tag line: Keeping it Real! With NO artificial ingredients. NO GMO and NO high fructose corn syrup. Yet it still has a number of forms of sugar adding up to the three teaspoons of sugar. Four of the first five ingredients are some form of sugar. BUT it doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup! Woohoo. (Please note I say that very sarcastically)

VansCranberryAlmondGlutenFree-front-Neily VansCranberryAlmondGlutenFree-Neily

  • brown rice syrup
  • invert cane sugar
  • fig paste & fig concentrate (I’ll give this a pass)
  • dried cranberries (I’ll give this a pass also)
  • sugar

Don’t give organic the health halo

An example of an organic trail mix bar. Not a bad product but still with just over two teaspoons of added sugar – tapioca syrup, sugar, raisin juice concentrate, more sugar, barley malt, dried cherries (I’ll give that a pass), and again more sugar. Why not just throw together a small handful of nuts and some dried cherries? Buy them organic if it makes you feel better. A much better option.

CascadianFarmOrganicTrailMixBar-label-Neily CascadianFarmOrganicTrailMixBar-Neily

My last example compares two oatmeals—both cook very quickly, both organic, but one has four teaspoons of added sugar. The manufacturer might argue that it’s organic agave nectar but like all the other sugar previously mentioned, it’s sugar. Sugar is sugar. We eat too much. Organic or otherwise. Take the plain organic quick cooking and add your own natural fruit. And there’s nothing wrong with the good old-fashioned rolled oats—easier on the budget!

Amy's-oatmeal-Neily Bobs-Red-Mill-Organic-Quick-Cooking-Rolled-Oats-039978019530

Sugar is sugar

Bottom line: Don’t give food a health halo. Read the labels. Sugar comes in many different forms but it is still sugar. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day and men no more than 9.

Just because something is organic or gluten-free does not mean it’s good for you. Sugar is sugar. Eat less.

Confused about what to eat and don’t know who to believe? Schedule a complimentary Ditch Dieting Forever strategy session with Neily – bit.ly/meetwithneily

Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach


  1. wehight

    Love the visuals you provided in this post – they really put things into perspective! Trader Joe’s is a big temptation for me – I’m now making myself stick to the perimeter of that store just to avoid all the “seeminlgy harmless” snacks they fill the middle aisles with 🙂

    • Neily

      Thanks for your comment Whitney! Fortunately not ALL middle-of-the-aisle foods are off limits but you do need to read labels!

  2. Jean | DelightfulRepast.com

    This is one of my pet peeves, Neily! Before the GF craze, it would be people thinking anything “whole grain” had to be good for you. I just posted Sugar – Toxin or Treat? to give readers my take on sugar.


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