Gluten-Free, Multi-Grain, and Organic Junk Food

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When shopping for food there are quite a few confusing buzz words out there that can easily be misleading. Just because a product says it’s multi-grain, 7-grain, gluten-free, or organic does not mean it isn’t highly processed. First and foremost, always read the ingredient label (as opposed to relying on the health claims on the front of the package). That is the only way to know what’s really in your food, and what you find may be surprising.

how to avoid organic junk food

  • Multi-Grain / 7-Grain: This claim simply means the product contains more than one type of grain (or in some cases as many as 7 grains). Some examples of different grains are wheat, barley, rye, spelt, rice, oats, and corn. Just because a food product is made with more than one of these grains does not automatically mean any of them are whole grain…and nutritionally speaking there is a big difference between refined and whole grains. For more on this topic check out: Understanding Grains and Nutrients in Refined vs. Whole Grains.

    Product Example: Snyder’s Multi-Grain Pretzel Sticks
    These pretzels contain more refined white flour (labeled as enriched wheat flour) and sweetener (labeled as molasses) than whole-grain flours.
  • Gluten-Free: Obviously the gluten-free label is important for those with an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, but just because a food is labeled as gluten-free does not mean it isn’t highly processed. Gluten-free simply means that grains with gluten (like wheat, barley and rye) were not used when making the product. But just like the multi-grain example above the alternate grains may or may not be whole grain products…you must read the ingredient label to find out!
    Product Example: DeBoles Gluten-Free Rice Pasta
    This pasta is made from refined “rice” and contains no whole grains (like brown rice).
  • Organic: Even if a food product is labeled as certified organic it could still be made with sugar, white flour, and other refined ingredients. Just because the cookies are organic does not mean they aren’t junk food!
    Product Example: Late July Organic Vanilla Bean Cookies
    These cookies may be organic, but they still contain refined white flour (labeled as organic wheat flour), refined sweeteners (labeled as organic evaporated cane juice, organic brown rice syrup, and organic evaporated cane juice syrup), and additives (including soy lecithin and natural flavors).

The moral of the story is…always read the ingredient label to know what’s really in your food!

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69 comments to Gluten-Free, Multi-Grain, and Organic Junk Food

  • Dee

    Labeling the DeBoles pasta as “junk food” is a little misleading (it only has 2 ingredients and neither of those are high fructose corn syrup or anything terrible).
    Also, most of the readers here likely know that cookies of any kind are “junk food” but are looking to give our kids something a little better for them while still giving them a treat once in a while. An organic oreo here and there makes them less likely to eat 10 normal oreos at a kid’s birthday party.
    I appreciate the information, but this post may be a bit too picky?

    • Shelby

      Maybe you aren’t being picky enough!

    • Good points, Dee. But, I think the purpose of this post is to encourage us to realize that the “buzzwords” don’t mean “health food.” So yes, eating the DeBoles pasta once in awhile is probably fine, but it probably shouldn’t be consumed EVERY time you eat pasta.

    • Kristy

      Dee: Did you know that white rice causes an insulin response? It is junk food. I would classify it as junk food.

    • Dee

      Aubrey, I totally agree about the buzzwords (tons of candy etc is “gluten free” and I have friends that think anything vegetarian is healthy!). I guess my issue was just that someone serving a dinner of rice pasta with veggies isn’t really serving their kids “junk”–it just may not be the BEST option. There are a wide range of foods between junk and healthy and I would say these fall inbetween. (Healthy=whole, organic foods made at home and junk= mcdonalds with fries and a candy bar for dessert).

      I do really appreciate that the author pointed out that gluten free is important for people with celiac. I do not have celiac but I have severe stomach problems that make white rice easier to digest than brown rice, so I often buy the “less healthy” white rice to serve with our (otherwise organic and homemade) meals. It is definitely all about balance.

      • Danielle

        Dee, your comment is not unfounded. I too struggle with whole grains and find white flour and rice easier to digest. I would also recommend giving Anthony Colpo a read in regards to this issue ( You can just Google him and search his website for his articles on whole grains, if you don’t want to click on the link provided. To each their own, but I find his judgement of the whole-grain theory to be interesting.

  • Allison

    And I’ve heard brown rice contains carcinogens! You can’t win, really! Be healthy, be smart, eat in moderation.

  • Virginia stephens

    It is always best to mill your own wheat, make your breads and baked goods. Learn to cook from scratch, seems to be a lost art these days.

  • Always good information to remember, and I agree with your post. I am frequently annoyed by mass-marketed products labeled with nutritional buzz words (in particular whole-grains).
    My problem is not at all with your post, but rather the comments you’ve received. I think people need to remember that what is best for them and their families is not always possible or best for everyone. For example, while many of us might consider white rice “junk food”, sometimes we may also find a need or reason to use it. I think people need to keep a level head and don’t be judgmental of other’s lifestyles. Most of us are doing what we can to eat healthy unprocessed foods while still balancing the realities of living in the modern world. We have enough guilt and confusion about what to eat without everyone judging everything we eat and making us feel bad by doing things like calling even homemade cookies for our children “junk food”. Keep a level head and be nice to others!

  • Shannon

    I am trying to cut out processed foods. I have fallen into the busy mom, go for easy rut. So brown rice is good for you? I literally have it on my stove right now. So if brown rice isn’t good, what kind of rice is?

    • Laura

      Shannon, feel good about yourself – brown rice is a great alternative to white rice for a more nutrient dense food. There have been high levels of arsenic found in certain brown rice and some people right now are anti-grain of any type (paleo). However, it’s all about balance, finding what’s right for you. We all agree eating a lot of veggies is good… beyond that there are so many conflicting studies, opinions, you really have to just pick your battles! :)
      If you don’t have any digestive problems with brown rice, and you’re not eating it every day all day, you’re probably ok.

  • Susan

    Brown rice is high in phytic acid, an “anti-nutrient” that blocks absorption of vitamins and minerals (here’s one website that touches on it – Same with whole grains that are not sprouted prior to consumption. White rice is more easily digestible than brown. So yeah, you pretty much can’t win. There’s a ton of research out there both for and against whole grains. I’m reading the Nourished Metabolism right now and it goes against a lot of what I’ve believed for a long time. It’s so hard to sort out the truth from all of the info out there. I think there’s something to that saying, “Moderation is key.” People just need to do their own research and decide what’s best for THEIR family and stop judging others for what they do with theirs (not saying Lisa is judging, just in general). Of course organic junk food is still junk food, but at least it doesn’t have fake chemicals, colors, HFCS, etc. in it. That’s the way I look at it. If I want to give my kids a treat I’d rather give them organic graham crackers than the stuff with all the chemicals and fake stuff in it.

  • Alicia

    What sweeteners would you recommend if not evaporated cane sugar and the like?

  • Laura

    I agree with a previous poster that as long as you are reasonably aware, you have to make some degree of personal choice/judgment call. Some people believe eating meat is unethical, unhealthy (as supported by some science). Other people believe legumes and grains have some unfavorable chemical reactions (as supported by some science). But at the end of the day, I think the 100 day “guidelines” is a good rule of thumb to live by – and we can all agree less processed, more veggies, are good for the body. Beyond that, the details (paleo, gluten free, vegan, etc) are a matter of personal preference. All of us have varying amounts of time and $ to put into this effort and can’t necessarily do everything perfectly, or from scratch.

    Mental health is important to maintain on this journey – don’t get too tied up in restrictions or anger – try to get close to your food and its sources, and enjoy it!

  • Katy DT

    How do you decipher this: organic wheat flour= refined white flour on a label?


  • Gina

    Katy DT, not to answer for Lisa, but my opinion :-) White flour is wheat flour (that has been bleached, stripped, etc. See her post on that for further explanation.) It is WHOLE WHEAT that you are looking for on a lable. Whole wheat flour contains all parts of the wheat, whereas white flour (which is flour from wheat…) does not contain all parts of the wheat. Probably not the best explanation, but hopefully that helps a little. :-) Check out her post on the subject for more info.

  • Jennifer

    Do you have any gluten-free 100% whole grain bread (or tortilla) recipes? I have been looking everywhere for some and they almost all contain some sort of junk. I am currently nursing my second child and while she is not celiac, she has a really high sensitivity to wheat/gluten and it causes her a lot of tummy and sleep trouble.

  • whitney

    A food allergy test I took states that I can eat gluten but not wheat. Problem is, I love wheat anything!! What kind of non-wheat bread, cracker or pasta is even out there? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!

  • Great article thanks!!

    Just as a heads up, Tiger Nuts are Gluten Free, absolutely Organic and we believe they are probably the healthiest ‘single source’ snack food you can buy.

  • Alyssa B.

    My rule for processed foods is that I have to be able to recognize and pronounce every ingredient, and I have to be able to buy everything separately and construct it myself at home. The rest is rather loose for me. I don’t mind using granulated cane sugar though I’d prefer to use honey or maple syrup. I try not to ingest white flour as a rule, but as a baker I realize that whole-wheat flour pretty much destroys gluten and in products with yeast in them, white flour is often added to give a nice rise. I don’t personally do that in my own baking, but I can see why people do. The only two processed things I buy with any regularity are organic soy milk (because I don’t care for cow’s milk) and Annie’s Bunny Grahams (because I have a big sweet tooth and I love them). They are the only wheat product I eat that contains white flour, and I’m okay with that. I don’t count them as “junk food.” There are much worse things I could be eating.

  • It’s going to be finish of mine day, however before finish I am reading this wonderful article to increase my knowledge.

  • Dawn Font

    weird question maybe but if we are not looking for ‘enriched wheat flour’ what are we looking for? i get so confused sometimes, aren’t we looking for wheat flour? and if it says that why would it automatically make it WHITE flour?

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