Eat Smart · Get Well’s organic!

by Brittany Fuino, blogger

Ever find yourself  reaching for that extra cookie or handful of potato chips just because they’re labeled “organic”?  It’s OK because they’re healthy, right?  Or maybe you chow down on Wendy’s “fries in disguise” because they say “natural.”  We’ve all been there.

Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student at Cornell University (sorry ‘Cuse lacrosse fans…too soon?), did a study in which people were asked to compare what they believed to be organic and conventional varieties of  cookies, yogurt, and chips.  In reality, both products were organic.  But across the board, subjects perceived the “organic” versions to be better tasting, higher in fiber, and lower in calories and fat than their “regular” counterparts.

What made peoples’ perceptions of two identical food products so different?  The label.  Lee calls this the “health halo effect:” the organic label on certain foods leads consumers to believe they are tastier and more nutritious.

The study does not confirm that people will eat more of something because it’s organic. But if you think you’re getting more “bang for your buck” calorie-wise by choosing organic Oreos (yes, they do exist), it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t be tempted to succumb to a little over-indulgence.  Kind of like how I helped myself to two Fudgesicles instead of one last night because they were the sugar-free kind. Whoops.

I’m all for grabbing the goods in the organic aisle to avoid pesticides and food additives, or even to support green packaging.  But green packaging is no green light to wolf down an entire bag of organic potato chips.  Purely talking nutrition, a calorie is a calorie, a chip is a chip, and a cookie is a cookie, so don’t let the health halo of organic labeling fool you.  Check out this video from Howcast for tips on how to avoid unhealthy foods that seem good for you.