Study reveals the ‘health halo’ of organic foods

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition Organic food

Study reveals the ‘health halo’ of organic foods
Consumers may consider organic cookies, yogurt and potato chips to be tastier, healthier and lower in calories because they carry an organic label, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Cornell.

Study author Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student at Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, said she has long been interested in a possible ‘halo’ effect of organic labeling, by which she means that many people consider ‘organic’ to be a positive attribute that can then positively affect their perception of the product’s other characteristics.

To test her theory, Lee conducted a double-blind controlled trial in which 144 participants were asked to evaluate various attributes of what they thought were regular and organic varieties of chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt, and potato chips. In fact, all the products were identical pairs of organic foods.

Lee told FoodNavigator-USA: “There’s this widespread perception that organic is healthier. We wanted to see whether this applied to organic processed foods in particular, and foods ​[like cookies and potato chips] that people generally don’t associate with either organic or health.”

Participants were asked to rate the foods on a scale of 1 to 9 for various attributes, including overall taste and perception of fat content. In addition, the researchers asked them to estimate the number of calories in each item and to specify how much they would be willing to pay.

They found that participants tended to prefer almost all of the taste attributes for the products labeled ‘organic’, even though they were identical to the products labeled ‘regular’. In terms of healthfulness, participants tended to rate the organic-labeled cookies and chips as more nutritious than their regular-labeled counterparts.

Products labeled organic were also judged to be lower in calories and to warrant higher prices, and were perceived to be higher in fiber and lower in fat.

“The most statistically significant result we found was that the organic foods were considered to be lower in calories,”​ Lee said.

She said the results could have important implications in terms of what and how much people eat, particularly if they tend to seek out foods that carry an organic label.

“Having this organic label may lead people to underestimate the number of calories in a food product or feel that they can indulge,”​ she said.

The results of the study were presented as part of the scientific program of the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting on April 10.

Related topics Reformulation Health

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1 comment

Organic. It's Worth It

Posted by OrganicTrade,

There are definite factors that have been linked to obesity, including a sedentary lifestyle, overconsumption of calories, and economic-driven factors. But, there is no proven correlation between the growth of Americans’ waistlines and the growth in U.S. organic sales.

It is important to recognize that there are real differences between organic packaged foods and their non-organic counterparts. By law, organic packaged foods must be made without the use of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. This is particularly important given recent research illustrating the link between exposure synthetic food dyes and increased incidents of health problems, including ADHD (

Organic packaged foods also reflect the true cost of the food production. By contrast, there are hidden costs generated through the production of non-organic products for which everyone pays indirectly. As Dr. Sandra Steingraber has written (, “Among the costs not incorporated into the bar codes that beep their way through the check-out lane: fertilizer-contaminated groundwater, insecticide-contaminated fish, herbicide-contaminated rain, dead honeybees, poisoned wildlife, deformed frogs, eroded soil, toxic algal blooms, ozone depletion, and antibiotic resistance. These are what economists call "externalities"—the costs of an activity that are borne by others. The bad thing about externalities is that they lead to market outcomes that are costly to society even though privately profitable.”

At the same time, organic packaged products support a system of sustainable agricultural management that promotes soil health and fertility through the use of such methods as crop rotation and cover cropping, which nourish plants, foster species diversity, help combat climate change, prevent damage to valuable water resources, and protect farmers and farmers’ families from exposure to harmful chemicals.

It is also worth noting that mounting evidence ( indicates that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, than their counterparts grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

Given these and the many other benefits organic products have to offer, it is clear that organic is worth it for our health as well as the health of our planet.

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