Study: Organic Foods Just Seem More Nutritious

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If that organic yogurt you’ve switched to just feels all-around healthier than its non-organic counterpart, it’s possible you may be under the powerful sway of its “organic” label, suggests a new study.canstockphoto2438106

The study was published early online today in Food Quality and Preference.

Researchers went to a mall and laid out pairs of three foods: yogurt, cookies, and potato chips. Each pair of foods was identical to one another. The only difference between the two foods was its packaging. One yogurt, cookie and potato chip packaging prominently displayed that the item was organic. (All were actually organic.)  None of the items featured brand names and the packaging was designed to appear similar.

Yet after the 115 participants tasted each pair of foods, one after the other, they judged the organic yogurt and cookies as having fewer calories than its twin. For example, the shoppers estimated the organic cookie had on average 48 fewer calories than the conventional.

All the organic labels had an effect on participants when it came to nutrition. The labeled organic foods were said to taste ‘lower in fat’ than the non-organic. Shoppers rated the organic cookies and organic yogurt as having more fiber. And the organic cookie was rated as more nutritious overall.

Shoppers also were willing to pay almost 25 percent more for the organics.

The authors attribute their findings to the “health halo” effect, having one health claim on a packaging leading consumers to think a product is healthier in general.

This “health halo” effect had less of an effect on those participants who regularly read nutrition labels and purchased organic foods, the study found.


Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

One thought on “Study: Organic Foods Just Seem More Nutritious”

  1. What I learn from the study as described is not that there is any sort of “health halo”, but instead that:

    a) Consumers are unable to judge nutritional content based on flavor alone – not surprising if you’ve ever watched Chef Ramsay subject contestants to a blind taste test (in which only rarely are even the strongest flavors identified correctly), and

    b) Consumers assume there is accurate, valuable information in a label.

    In theory, food manufacturers are not free to slap ‘organic’ onto foods that are *not* organic, but (for economic reasons) would be certain to label foods that actually *are* organic.

    In the grocery store, I do not assume that ‘organic’ means a food has a lower calorie count or is more healthy — those determinations require an examination of the entire product label for calorie, fat, salt, and carbohydrate content, combined with an informed opinion of the trustworthiness (or lack thereof) of the manufacturer.

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