Thursday, August 27, 2009
Product Review: Nature's Path Organic
About a month and a half ago I received a marketing email - presumably sent to a wide range of gluten-free bloggers - from Nature's Path Organic. The subject line read: "Avoid gluten, not nutrients, with Nature's Path gluten-free offerings." The email went on to explain that many packaged GF foods, while gluten-free, are also nutrient deficient because of the extra processing that goes into making them taste (hopefully) like their gluten counterparts. It continued: "...by choosing gluten-free foods that are whole grain and organic, you and your readers can be assured you're getting the nutrients you need, including the fiber and B vitamins which are often missing, and avoiding not only gluten, but pesticides and chemicals too." You can guess what comes next: the pitch for the Nature's Path Organic line of GF products.
Normally, I'm wary of such emails, and of companies making such claims. The point at which the packaging (or marketing email, in this case) starts making health claims is the point at which I begin to wonder why such claims are necessary. After all, the fruits and veggies in the produce department don't go around with tiny billboards touting their various attributes. They just sit in their bins, fresh and (ideally) local and inherently nutritious.
The health claims we find on a wide range of packaged foods tend to shift with the times, and from my anecdotal observation in the supermarket over the last many months, I'd have to wager that "omega 3 fatty acids and DHA" are the claim du jour. Omega 3's are also known as the essential amino acids, and though they can be obtained from a variety of sources, they are most abundant in fish (especially oily, cold water fish). But disturbingly, at least to me, you see these omega 3 / DHA claims popping up on the boxes of foods that normally wouldn't have such nutritional components. They've been artifically added at some point during the manufacturing process. Which brings me to reason #1 why products make health claims: to tout the additives that make their food "healthier" than it would otherwise be on its own. (Calcium- and omega-3 fortified orange juice is an example that jumps immediately to mind.)
Of course, there are other, more innocuous reasons why products make health claims: for one, they might want to tout what's already in a product. Simply by explicitly mentioning an inherent health or nutrition attribute these products gain a marketing edge, and if you're really feeling kind, you might say that they also serve as a form of passive public education for consumers who might not already know, or who might not turn to the ingredients and nutrition labeling (or know how to read it if they did).
Lastly, there's the matter of Keeping up with the Jones's. As some companies begin to start making health claims, competitors (who might not normally be inclined to make such claims) are almost forced to follow suit...because if a consumer sees them side by side on a supermarket shelf, do you go with the plain old product, or the product with the mega nutrition and health benefits?
Which at long last brings me back around to Nature's Path Organic. This a company that I'd place more toward the "altruistic" end of the health claims spectrum. I've been a fan of their products since long before I ever received the marketing email one and a half months ago. As a company, they're committed to sustainability, the environment, and human health. All causes near and dear to yours truly. Their products are also organic, they have a dedicated gluten-free line of foods, and perhaps more than anything else, I was attracted by the sheer simplicity of their ingredients. For example, the Organic Corn Flakes contain nothing more than organic corn meal, organic juice concentrate, and sea salt. That's it. I've been eating both that cereal, and the Honey'd Corn Flakes for quite a while, and when visiting relatives in NY, I've tried some of the other Nature's Path Organic GF cereals that family has had on hand for me as an easy GF breakfast.
In the wake of that email from Nature's Path, I did request some additional product samples to round out my perspective on their GF line of foods. Sticking with the cereals, I tried the Whole O's, which look identical to a Cheerio. However, rather than being made from oats, as you might expect, they're made from organic corn and whole grain rice. Although they're a bit harder/crunchier than other similar cereals, the taste is still great. I also tried the Crispy Rice cereal, which are similar to, but not exactly like, Rice Krispies. They're made with organic whole grain rice, and are very tasty. Texturally, they're a tweener, residing somewhere between true crispy rice and puffed rice. Our almost-9-month old daughter, Marin, likes to munch on them, and Kelli made some into a delicious batch of rice cereal treats (we'd recommend mixing them with a "true" crispie rice such as Erewhon's GF version, to ensure a texture and flavor in line with what you'd expect from a rice cereal treat).
Lastly, I sampled two types of the EnviroKidz Organic Crispy Rice Bar: chocolate flavor, and peanut butter flavor. For me, both bars had the perfect consistency - not gooey, firm, but not too firm. The chocolate and peanut flavors, while apparent, weren't bold, smack-you-in-the-face strong. The flavors were more subtle. Nutritionally, the bars had just 7g of sugar each, which is about one third the amount of sugar you'd typically find in a serving of fruit on the bottom yogurt.
(Note: The company also makes a line of GF frozen waffles which I have not tried.)
My final assessment: on the spectrum of gluten-free specialty foods, the Nature's Path Organic line of cereals and rice cereal bars rates pretty highly...for taste, texture, nutrition, integrity of ingredients, and company ethic. The cereals in particular will maintain their place in my rotation of GF breakfast cereals in the pantry. Enjoy!