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,
- Natural Flavors,
- Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate),
- Non-Fat Dry Milk,
- 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) in higher amounts than in fresh milk (up to 30 μg/g, versus trace amounts in fresh milk). 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. (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.
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.
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!