Is Refined Food Really Organic?

By Brane Žilavec, May 2012

In recent years we have seen more and more certified organic products made from refined ingredients, such as white flour and whitish types of sugar, while at the same time we are witnessing in the mainstream food market the trend towards whole grains and even a movement promoting complete elimination of sugar on the basis of health reasons. How is it possible that the organic movement, in spite of all its past positive work to provide people with good quality food, has lost its compass in regard to the choice between whole and refined food?

How can the representatives of the organic movement claim that their main purpose is "to produce high quality, nutritious food that contributes to preventative health care and well-being" of people while there is no single scientific evidence about the positive health impact of refined foods? There is a full report available which looks at this issue from various perspectives in an attempt to raise attention to this greatest weakness of the organic movement with the aim to remedy this weird and unhealthy situation.

Content of the report:

  1. Holistic Approach to Nutrition
  2. Core Values of the Organic Movement
  3. Integrity of Organic Standards
  4. Question of Food Quality
  5. Evidence of Health Impacts
  6. Promotion of Organic Foods
  7. Labelling of Organic Refined Foods
  8. Consumers’ Freedom of Choice
  9. Summary of the Research

Before you proceed see Glossary of the Key Words used in this report.

1. Holistic approach to nutrition

A holistic approach to nutrition is very extensive and multilayered because of the extremely complex nature of the human being. Even if we look to the physical body only we can see a bewildering complexity when we penetrate to the cellular and molecular levels. If we add to this the complexity of other natural kingdoms which are the sources of the food we consume, we can understand the difficulties when one wants to approach the questions of nutrition in a truly holistic way. My website is an attempt to cut through this confusing complexity and to formulate the fundamental principles of a holistic approach to nutrition in a similar way to the fundamental principles of organic farming. For this reason I am here giving just a brief introduction.

I always stress that whenever we deal with the living organism, one cannot underestimate anything which has an effect on it. I never say that nutrition is the only important or the most important thing in regard to human health. My understanding is that everything "a person does, or is guided to do" [1] is extremely important. We need to extend our knowledge and awareness about the multitude of physical, psychological and spiritual influences and their interrelationships with various parts of human being. This is a real holistic approach to human health and wellbeing.

The guide for the practices of the members of the organic movement should be based on understanding how the food affects the human being in all his manifold aspects. In regard to the question of what kind of food is the most appropriate for human beings we need to guard against the very widespread practice of one-sided, simple answers. Even if we leave aside those answers which are motivated by profit, we are still not free from false conclusions. In many cases what is true inside limited areas turns into falsification when it is extended to the whole humankind. This is the most widespread error in regard to nutritional rules and advice with which we are flooded nowadays in the media and elsewhere.

"Present-day mankind must, above all, realise more and more that man is a complicated being and that everything to do with man is connected with this complexity of his being. If there is a kind of science holding the opinion that man consists merely of a physical body, it cannot possibly work beneficially with the healthy or the sick human being. For health and sickness, have a relationship to man as a whole and not to one part of him only, namely the physical body." [2]

For that reason I will present an overview of all possible influences which contribute to the final outcome of a meal and which determine if the meal fulfils the needs of a person in a healthy way, or it does not. If we want to understand the essential differences in the effects of Wholefood vs Refined we need to get first a broad picture which will prevent us to be lost in the details when we focus on the particular aspects in the following chapters.

As you can see the question of the quality of ingredients in our food is just one among nine aspects. This shows that any attempt to promote Organic = Healthy is contrary to the facts of life. Of course, one can say organic food is healthier than food produced by the help of artificial chemical substances. However, the use of general health claims for promotion of organic food is leading people into false beliefs that one can ‘buy health’. The reality is: as we cannot buy an understanding of something with the purchase of a book, we cannot buy health with the purchase of organic food. In both cases we need to put in an effort to achieve either understanding with the help of good book or a healthy state of balance with the help of good food.  

But this does not lessen the importance of food quality. On the contrary – it has a tremendous significance. One can find the aspect of quality in all other aspects. In fact, living organisms are never working in an isolated manner, but within them everything is interrelated. Only for the sake of understanding do we need to separate out of them various aspects of their being.

Because of this living web of interconnections I had some difficulties in keeping exclusively to the chosen topic in the following chapters. Of most importance is that the presented facts are understood and that links are established by the readers themselves. I hope that in the follow up there will also be presented additional perspectives. Only if we listen to each other can we improve our understanding of the numerous aspects of food quality. In a way this should be our ‘duty’ if we are seriously committed to the task of producing food which will serve the needs of human beings in the best possible way.

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  1. From a quote of Rudolf Steiner which refers to a holistic approach to health and illness.
  2. Rudolf Steiner, The Being of Man and His Future Evolution, Berlin, 10.11.1908