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Decoding Labels: Newman’s Own Organics Fig Newmans

I like my cookies soft. Soft and chewy. This usually means I dip crispy cookies in raw milk to soften them, but sometimes I indulge in a chewy cookie. Because of this predilection, old-fashioned Fig Newtons used to be my favorite cookie. Those little gems are soooo soft. Of course, those wonderful soft cookies had to be abandoned when I began prioritizing traditional, real food in my diet.

Then, a couple months ago at the grocery store something totally unexpected caught my eye. Organic fig newtons? Could it be? I saw a package of Newman’s Own Organics Fig Newmans staring back at me.

I did what I always do when faced with the prospect of something yummy and convenient. I picked up the bag, turned it over, and read the ingredients label. This is what I found.


Here’s what the manufacturer claims:

All natural; made with organic flour and organic sugar; made with organic figs
No artificial flavors or colors
No hydrogenated oils, no trans-fatty acids
Casein free; cholesterol free; GMO free; lactose free; low-fat; vegetarian

Seriously, this promises to be good, right? GMO-free? Organic? No hydrogenated oils? The only claims that raise my suspicions are some of those last ones. Casein-free? Lactose-free? I guess some cookies can be made without milk, but this often leads to questionable ingredient substitutions. The same goes for the “low-fat” and “vegetarian” claims. That means there are no eggs, right? If no eggs, what are they using as an emulsifier?

Newman’s Own Organics Fig Newmans (Low-Fat): Ingredients

  • Organic Unbleached Wheat Flour,
  • Organic Sugar,
  • Organic Figs,
  • Corn Syrup,
  • Organic Palm Fruit Oil,
  • Water,
  • Natural Flavors,
  • Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate),
  • Non-Fat Dry Milk,
  • Salt,
  • Soy Lecithin (an emulsifier)

Newman’s Own Organics Fig Newmans (Low-Fat): DECODED

As always, let’s begin with the good news. Look at all those organic goodies! Organic flour, sugar, figs, and even palm oil. They even claim it’s GMO-free. There’s a lot of stuff to be happy about here.

Of course, the product isn’t actually certified organic.

Did you catch that? If you don’t see the certified organic seal, the product isn’t certified organic. Yes, the brand name is Newman’s Own Organics, but according to the USDA you can sell non-organic food under a brand name that includes the word “organic.” If the product contains 70% or more certified organic ingredients, but not enough for the full USDA certification, it can advertise itself as “made with organic ingredients” (like these Fig Newmans do). But, even if it has less than 70% organic ingredients, it can still be sold under a brand name with the word “organic” in it so long as it makes no claim on its packaging about being “made with organic ingredients,” “organic,” or “100% organic.” Tricky, isn’t it?

So, let’s take a look at some of the ingredients I find objectionable.

First, even though it’s organic, I can’t get behind the use of organic unbleached wheat flour. Maybe, just maybe, if it were the only thing wrong with this convenience food, I would say it is worth the convenience… maybe. But let’s get real. This is a refined flour. There is a right way to eat grains, and this isn’t it.

And what’s with the corn syrup? I get that it’s GMO-free. But you can’t make corn syrup at home, at least not without a chemistry lab set up in your kitchen. Turning corn into a sweetener wasn’t even possible until the advent of industrialization. It’s not a natural sweetener and is entirely the product of an industrialized food supply.

Ugh. Natural flavors. Again. Need I remind you that anything can be called “natural” so long as it originated in nature before it was isolated and perverted in a food laboratory somewhere? That means your natural flavors could be made from tree bark or beaver testes. Wouldn’t it be better to actually use the food that creates the flavor you want, rather than scientifically deriving the flavor compounds from a myriad of “natural” chemical sources? While it’s possible to get “good” natural flavors, I have a hard time trusting such an overtly industrialized food product to use discernment.

And yet again, industrial convenience food opts for non-fat dry milk. Even if we decide we don’t care about the source of that milk (surely it’s not from healthy, pasture-raised dairy cows), it’s commercially dried! Even Wikipedia has cited studies that demonstrate that powdered milk contains excess oxidized cholesterol, which contributes to the hardening of your arteries:

Commercial milk powders are reported to contain oxysterols (oxidized cholesterol)[9] in higher amounts than in fresh milk (up to 30 μg/g, versus trace amounts in fresh milk).[10] Oxysterols are derivatives of cholesterol that are produced either by free radicals or by enzymes. Certain free radicals-derived oxysterols have been suspected of being initiators of atherosclerotic plaques.[11] (source)

So, even though this product is “natural,” we can all agree that commercially dried milk is simply not a thing found in nature, nor is it good for you. In fact, chances are good it would contribute to the inflammation and hardening of your arteries and accelerate the onset of heart disease!

Last but not least, soy lecithin. They’ve got to use soy lecithin because they’re not using eggs (a natural source of lecithin). I don’t have to tell you about the dangers of soy.

Newman’s Own Organics Fig Newmans: THE VERDICT

So, what should you use instead?

Of course, the best option is to make them yourself. Do I have a good recipe? No. Can you imagine how disappointed I was when I realized these so-called organic fig newtons turned out to be anything but?

What about you? Do you have a recipe for homemade fig newtons that uses sprouted or soaked flours, or that is grain-free? Please share!

But guess what I discovered last month? A gluten-free fig cookie created by one of my favorite sponsors, Jovial Foods. I know; I know. It’s still a compromise. It has a couple of questionable ingredients (hard to avoid when buying pre-packaged gluten-free foods).

But, they’re actually certified organic while being far less sweet than a typical American cookie. And they’re made with egg yolks from pastured hens. So, I’m happy to have them as a super-occasional, convenient treat.

(Where to find Jovial Cookies)

And, when I want a “safer” organic convenient cookie treat that I am 100% happy with, I buy their einkorn flour cookies. Einkorn is the most ancient variety of wheat. Einkorn has a 14 chromosomes, whereas modern wheat has a whopping 42 chromosomes which changes the gluten structure. I’ve found that my body doesn’t respond to the gluten in einkorn like it’s modern wheat gluten at all (which agrees with this study that found it safe for celiacs). Plus, einkorn is considered more nutritious than modern wheat because it has more protein, essential fatty acids, phosphorous, potassium, pyridoxine, and beta-carotene.

These cookies also use eggs from pastured hens, and they’ve got no questionable ingredients like soy or “natural flavors” at all. Plus, like all Jovial treats, they’re far less sweet than the typical U.S. cookie.

(Where to find Jovial Cookies & einkorn flour)

How about you? Have you found any occasional cookie treats that you feel good buying?

Want Your Labels Decoded?

In this series on Decoding Labels, I’m highlighting deceptive labeling practices, hidden ingredients, and more! If you’ve got a particular label pet-peeve you’d like me to share, please feel free to email me with your idea. It may just turn into a blog post!

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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45 Responses to Decoding Labels: Newman’s Own Organics Fig Newmans
  1. Bethany
    May 30, 2012 | 3:44 pm

    I made some homemade newton cookies based on this recipe: http://alldayidreamaboutfood.com/2011/02/homemade-berry-newtons-and-a-giveaway-for-picky-eaters.html

    I was pretty happy with the result.

    • KristenM
      May 30, 2012 | 7:39 pm

      Thanks for sharing! I can imagine adapting these using sprouted flour and honey. Is that what you did? How did they turn out?

      • Bethany
        May 31, 2012 | 7:41 pm

        I used honey; arrowroot instead of cornstarch, but I just stuck with whole wheat pastry flour–so definitely not perfect. They came out great!

    • Laura
      June 2, 2012 | 1:48 pm

      Thanks for this recipe. I love fig newtons and made some canned organic figs this last summer for future fig newton experiments. I’ll be trying to make them gluten free as well; For a cake-like cookie there’s no reason not too.

  2. Lisa Capehart
    May 30, 2012 | 7:49 pm

    Thanks for the label decoding, but the real gift in this post was learning about einkorn flour! I’ve eliminated wheat from my diet due to the possible connection with a higher-than-it-should-be TPO reading, indicating Hashimoto’s Disease. Einkorn may be a safe alternative to modern wheat for those with gluten issues. Thanks much!

    • KristenM
      May 30, 2012 | 8:11 pm

      You’re welcome. I’m planning on writing a whole post on it soon. I like it so much better than spelt or kamut as an alternative flour.

  3. Vaughn
    May 30, 2012 | 9:18 pm

    I’m so glad that someone finally said something about these. I read nearly every label (especially for a new product)I was confused, puzzled, and ultimately appalled when i read the the ingredients.

    Thanks for posting this!

  4. Sarah
    May 31, 2012 | 8:36 am

    This is disappointing. :( I looked it up and it only comes in low fat, fat free and wheat/dairy free varieties. :( I love fig newtons too. My MIL buys these and I sometimes have some at her house. That’s a tricky thing with the “organics” but not certfied organic label!
    I do think the unbleached wheat flour is not a problem, though. There isn’t any normal grocery store wheat product that will soak the flour before baking, and according to WAPF and Ramiel Nagel it is better to have the bran removed. To my knowledge “unbleached wheat flour” is basically white flour that has not been bleached. I’m ok with that in a treat or snack. In fact I prefer it to a “whole wheat” counterpart in anything I’m not making myself.

    • KristenM
      May 31, 2012 | 10:27 am

      Well, that’s why I said if it were the *only* thing wrong with this, I’d maybe consider it as a special treat… maybe. But, it’s not the only thing wrong with it.

  5. Annie
    May 31, 2012 | 10:23 am

    Could be that neither the corn syrup nor the soy lecithin are GMO-free since the word “organic” is not attached to either of them. As you already know, a small percentage of non-organic ingredients can be included in a product labeled “organic”.

    • KristenM
      May 31, 2012 | 10:25 am

      Yes, I would have said that except for the fact that the manufacturer clearly ALSO claims the product is “GMO-free.” So, that *mostly* negates the possibility. Of course, they’re not certified GMO-free by a third party like the Non-GMO project, so it’s possible the claim is misleading or false.

    • KristenM
      May 31, 2012 | 10:27 am

      Plus, this product is NOT labeled “organic.” The brand is “Newman’s Own Organics,” but no claim is made as to the product actually being organic, only some ingredients. While some ingredients may be certified organic, the actual food itself is not certified organic by the USDA or any other organization.

  6. Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden via Facebook
    May 31, 2012 | 12:19 pm

    How offensive and lame!

  7. Deb
    May 31, 2012 | 12:20 pm

    I just contacted them yesterday about their o’s and this was their reply
    “Dear Deb,
    Thank you for taking time to contact Newman’s Own Organics.  Newman’s Own Organics products are made with GMO free ingredients. ingredients in Certified Organic products whether Organic or Non-Organic, are not allowed to contain GMOs.  Newman’s Own Organics make sure all of our ingredients are certified by a 3rd party certification group called Oregon Tilth.  Oregon Tilth has been approved by the USDA to certify handlers of organic foods.  To find out more about Oregon Tilth go to http://www.tilth.org

    • KristenM
      May 31, 2012 | 12:26 pm

      Well, all they said was everything we already know.

      I really dislike non-replies that don’t directly address the questions presented.

      We already knew they’re GMO-free. We already knew the food product is made with some certified organic ingredients, but not enough for them to bear the USDA certified organic seal. To bear that seal, at least 95% of the ingredients need to be organic.

  8. Carrie Miller
    May 31, 2012 | 12:27 pm

    I agree with the Natural Flavors…whenever you see that word on the ingredients a red flag goes up with me. But what about the leavening agents and emulsifiers? Arent those really bad for you also?

  9. Angela
    May 31, 2012 | 12:41 pm

    Just looked up the jovial fig cookies, but I would not buy them. They do contain soy. Bummer! I love figs….just goes to show, if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.

    • KristenM
      May 31, 2012 | 12:47 pm

      Yep, soy is one of the “questionable ingredients” I mentioned in the post. Considering that it’s such a small amount, and that it’s GMO-free, I don’t have a problem with it as an occasional treat. We’re diligent in eliminating other forms of soy in our diet, and we eat plenty of other thyroid-promoting foods. So, I’m not concerned about the small amount found in their cookies.

      As with all convenience foods, it’s on a sliding scale. The fact that they’re certified organic, use egg yolks from pastured hens, and are GMO-free puts them a step above most.

  10. Jessica Severt via Facebook
    May 31, 2012 | 12:45 pm

    UGH and I buy the Newman’s Own Organic “Oreos”. :(

    • Susie B.
      May 31, 2012 | 4:38 pm

      Me, too! They are great with a tall glass of fresh, cold, raw goat’s milk. :o( But, I knew they weren’t “all good”…just a better choice than conventional Oreo cookies.

  11. GreenUp! Guy via Facebook
    May 31, 2012 | 12:54 pm

    @Jessica, I think that you need to add the quotes around “Organic” as well, even sadder face now. :((

  12. Our Small Hours
    May 31, 2012 | 1:05 pm

    Love these label-reading posts!

  13. Elisabeth M
    May 31, 2012 | 1:50 pm

    Think twice about palm oil. Nutritionally it may be fine, but please know, palm oil = orangutans with no habitat, and orangutans with no habitat = no more orangutans.

    Palm oil is THE destroyer of orangutan habitat. I know – one more thing to have to boycott, in this world of terribly suspect, terribly ubiquitous bad stuff. ::groan:: But there isn’t any question about it. When you buy palm oil, you’re pushing orangutans down the Extinction Road, one jar of shortening at a time.

  14. Ashley Riggins via Facebook
    May 31, 2012 | 2:35 pm

    wow :(

  15. Sharon Bradfield Higgins via Facebook
    May 31, 2012 | 2:48 pm

    What happened to “buyer beware!” ?? Have we all started believing advertising lies? Packaging is just another form of advertising. We have to get smarter!!! Thanks for your post.

  16. Megan
    May 31, 2012 | 3:22 pm

    It’s not casein-free if it has non-fat milk in it. As a parent of a child with anaphylactic allergies to casein, that labeling error is really frustrating.

    • Jessica
      December 25, 2013 | 11:44 pm

      I’m so glad you addressed the casein issue! I was a little surprised that it wasn’t mentioned in the breakdown of the label. The Casein-free claim IS simply false. Fortunately, anyone who needs to be mindful of casein readily knows that milk = casein. I’m just as frustrated and disappointed as you at the labeling error. I’m curious to see if this label has been corrected in the 19mos since this original post.

  17. Christine Banford via Facebook
    May 31, 2012 | 6:09 pm

    great info. thanks for sharing.

  18. Faith Epp via Facebook
    May 31, 2012 | 6:14 pm

    Gotta read the back of the package – thanks for the info.

  19. Jennifer C Langston via Facebook
    May 31, 2012 | 10:22 pm

    I thought there were laws against false advertising

  20. KarenL
    June 1, 2012 | 9:56 am

    Way to go on such an extensive research on this product.

    For me, the “low fat” would’ve turned me away and I would not have given them a 2nd thought, lol.

    You’ve taught us something! :-)

  21. Bill Berry
    June 1, 2012 | 10:21 am

    It’s simple. #1-Do not buy food that has been endorsed by a celebrity. #2- avoid buying anything in a box or can #3- do not buy food that is advertised. I used to like Paul Newman (remember “The Sting”?), but this attempt at cashing in on his talent (posthumously)is sad. (I read that he started the salad dressing business in his bathtub.) I wonder if the heirs of his estate are concerned about this misrepresentation?

    • KristenM
      June 1, 2012 | 10:31 am

      Normally, Bill, I’d be 100% behind you. A simple read of my About page or Newbie Tips lets anyone see that.

      BUT, I’m also trying to be practical. I’m a mother with three small kids who lives in an urban environment. I’m not going to be milking my own cow, putting up all my own convenience foods, or making each and every food item we put in our mouths from scratch. While that may be ideal, it’s not realistic.

      So, I write posts like these for mothers like me who may occasionally decide that convenience is worth small compromises. If you’re going to make a compromise, you need to be as informed as possible about the choices you’re making.

  22. joy
    June 1, 2012 | 10:38 am

    http://thefauxmartha.com/2012/04/19/fig-newtons/

    http://lookimadethat.com/2010/11/22/fignewtons/

    i’m sure you could substitute gf all purpose flour for regular flour & use organic ingredients of course

  23. Lacey
    June 2, 2012 | 11:15 am

    Lately, I’ve been baking with almond flour, following the recipes from Elana Amsterdam’s Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. There is a recipe in it for fig newtons that I can’t wait to try! Everything else has been fantastic.

  24. Bob Jones
    June 5, 2012 | 10:13 am

    My wife and I were just discussing making our own fig newtons last night after watching a “green-washed” nabisco commercial touting the “natural-ness” of said cookies. Thanks for this post – and please, please, PLEASE if you run across a way to make these tasty cookies at home using “real” ingredients, let us know!

    Sincerely,
    Bob Jones

    • Bob Jones
      June 5, 2012 | 10:22 am

      my bad – I posted the above comment before reading the other posts with the recipe listed. Thanks, will try them soon!

  25. Lori Langone
    June 5, 2012 | 1:52 pm

    Those crispy chocolate Jovial cookies made with einkorn wheat flour have been my latest indulgence, dipped in cold raw milk. Yummy!

    • KristenM
      June 5, 2012 | 2:22 pm

      Those are soooo good. Especially dipped in milk!

  26. Shar
    June 5, 2012 | 2:18 pm

    Have had Jovials cookies, all kinds I believe, at the MOSES, organic agriculture conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin this winter. They WERE good! Love the help of the Organic cert. seal. That they donate items to the conference, makes good business sense to me, acting like neighbors. They didn’t donate tons, but there are lots of us…it was for one coffee break if I remember. And they were delish!!! I highly recommend them when there is not time to make ones own.
    Excellent article!!
    Reminds me to be diligent. Critically constantly re-evaluating. In fact, some products may start certified, and then lose that cert. to make more money, just like changing the size of the product to raise the profit margins….Cannot wait until integrity rules like we once thought it did!
    Blessings to all!

    • KristenM
      June 5, 2012 | 2:21 pm

      That’s actually a good point! Lots of products change their recipes to pinch pennies or make them more shelf-stable. So, they start out certified organic or with fantastic ingredients, and then they just go downhill as they gain popularity, switch out ingredients, or get bought out by a larger company.

  27. D Olson
    June 7, 2012 | 6:25 pm

    check the ingredients in the Jovi cookies you said had no bad stuff..SOY FLOUR IS in them..I got excited for a moment there, but BZZZZZZ REJECTED

    • KristenM
      June 7, 2012 | 6:31 pm

      I didn’t say they had no bad stuff. I said, “It’s still a compromise. It has a couple of questionable ingredients (hard to avoid when buying pre-packaged gluten-free foods).”

      I *did* say the Einkorn Flour Cookies had no bad stuff, and I’ll stand by that statement. That product is something I would make in my own kitchen, but simply more convenient.

    • Leah
      June 11, 2012 | 12:11 pm

      @ D Olson: TOTALLY! I saw them on the shelf at our natural food store and they were on special so I bought 2 boxes, I was totally excited. They are the ones in the picture… the fig ones. I ate a couple, they were ok, and then I was excited to read the ingredients and saw there was SOY FLOUR. I totally felt duped. I am really bummed. A warning would have certainly been appreciated. Now reading back over the post, I see that it was the Einkorn cookies that were recommended, but it was the ones in the picture that I saw, so I just assumed. I’m feeling pretty bummed about about what to do with these expensive cookies made with so flour.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.