The Appealing Allure of an Organic Label

organic-food-usda-9451I recently wrote about the impact of a health halo — including “low-fat” labels that end up enticing you to eat even more.

Now there’s similar evidence that “organic” labels can lead you to overeat.  The labels tend to make people think their organic snack has a lot fewer calories than it really does.

These findings were presented at this week’s Experimental Biology conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Cornell researchers found that  people who ate organic cookies labeled as “organic” believed their snack contained 40% fewer calories than the same cookies that had no label, according to Jenny Wan-Chen Lee, a graduate student at Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab.

“An organic label gives a food a “health halo,” said coauthor Brian Wansink, Cornell professor and author of the books Marketing Nutrition and Mindless Eating.

It’s the same basic reason people tend to overeat any snack food that’s labeled as healthy or low fat. They underestimate the calories and over-reward themselves by eating more.”

The study even identified two personality types most likely to make these low estimates – people who claim to “usually buy organic foods,” and those who typically read labels for nutrition information.

What if you don’t want to overeat an organic food?

“Take your best guess at its calorie count. Then double it. You’ll end up being more accurate, and you’ll probably eat a lot less,” explained Wansink.

So true.  Don’t be blinded by the bright lights of a health halo.  Always turn the product around and check the nutrition facts panel to see exactly how many calories you’re eating.  Never assume that “organic” is necessarily healthier or lower in calories than a product without an organic label.  And remember, an organic cookie is still a cookie.

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