Organic, Gluten-Free, Vegan—Which One's Healthiest?

Organic, Gluten-Free, Vegan—Which One's Healthiest?

I’ve received a series of questions from listeners lately. While the specific topics were quite different, they all have a common root—confusion about what various food designations and certifications mean.

Rohit’s question was about contaminants in protein powders.

I was recently researching which protein powder to buy and, to my shock, one of the brands I was looking at was rated worst in terms of contaminants (lead and cadmium.) This plant-based protein was certified USDA organic. Clearly, this label means nothing since they do not test for heavy metal contaminants. Why do we place so much importance on the USDA organic label if it does not protect us from contaminants?

Dennis was surprised to find that certified vegan products are often full of miscellaneous chemicals and artificial ingredients.

I have come to the conclusion that if I want to eat nutritious meals, avoiding processed foods, whether vegan or not, may be more important than seeking out certified vegan products.

Elaine’s question had to do with weight loss.

I’ve already cut gluten and dairy out of my diet. I’m not sure what else I can do to lose weight.

In each case, I think there’s some confusion about what various labels—such as organic, vegan, or gluten-free—do and don’t mean.

“Certified organic,” for example, doesn’t mean free of chemicals. It also doesn’t mean more nutritious or healthier. It means that no synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers are added to the crops or the soils.

Certified organic doesn’t mean free of chemicals. It also doesn’t mean more nutritious or healthier.

The reason organic products can contain heavy metals—including cadmium, lead, and arsenic—is that these minerals are naturally occurring in the environment. Even though they’re not added through fertilizers or pesticides, they exist in the soil. And the reason vegan protein powders are often higher in heavy metals than whey or egg-based protein powders is that plants tend to absorb these metals from the soil they’re grown in. 

Similarly, the designation “vegan” does not mean healthier, more nutritious, or even more natural. It only means that no animal products are used. As Dennis points out, a lot of the certified vegan foods you’ll find on the shelf these days are highly-processed junk food.

Furthermore, eliminating gluten or dairy from your diet does not automatically lead to weight loss. Gluten-containing foods like breads, cookies, crackers, pasta, and other flour-based foods can contribute a lot of calories to your diet without a whole lot of nutrition…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips

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