Is There a Halo Around Organic Foods? Should There Be?

People assume organic food tastes better, is healthier, and is worth paying more for, than conventional food.

That’s what Cornell’s Jenny Wan-chen discovered when she tested people’s responses to yogurt, chips and chocolate sandwich cookies alternatively labeled organic or conventional.

In her study, she passed out exclusively organic products, but told people that some of the products were organic but others weren’t.  Though the products sampled were identical, people found the products they were told were organic to be better-tasting, healthier and worth a higher price than the products they were told were conventional.

Stonyfied Vanilla

Stonyfields Health Benefit Isn't Less Fat or Fewer Calories.

Much of this is justified.  Organic products typically are healthier, in that they don’t have pesticide residues.  Some studies have also found organic products to have a different, and sometimes “better,” nutritional composition than their conventional counterparts, in terms of certain nutrients and antioxidants.  And certainly they’re better for the environment, as they don’t spread chemical pesticides or pollute our waters with chemical fertilizers.

Organic products also typically bring a higher price.  I would pay more (the question is how much more) for food that isn’t saturated with pesticides; particularly if I had young children.  I’d also pay more (again the question is how much more) for products that treat the environment better.

And in some studies, organic products have been found to taste better.  Even in blind taste tests, where people are actually comparing organic and conventional products and aren’t told which is which.

But this study also demonstrates that the sheen on the word “organic” goes beyond logical preferences.  In Wan-chen’s test, the “organic” products didn’t taste better than the “conventional” products–both products were indeed organic, and identical at that.  And so they weren’t more nutritious, or worth a higher price.  What’s more, the nutritional benefits the study’s participants attributed to the organic products–fewer calories, less fat and more fiber–don’t hold up in studies, with the exception perhaps of certain meats that are not only organic but also grass-fed.

But this misconception isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  People may be mistaken about what makes organic food healthier.  But it’s still good that they recognize that it is healthier.  In time people will sort out the real differences, but in the meantime they are doing themselves some good, whether or not for the exactly right reasons.

There is, admittedly, a dark side to all this.  To the extent that people think they’re reducing fat or calories by eating an organic version of a processed food, they’re being misled, and may even be hurting their health by eating more of an unhealthy food that they otherwise would.  Some people even argue that processed foods like chips and chocolate cookie sandwiches shouldn’t be allowed to be organic; heavily processing foods goes somewhat against the traditional organic ethos to begin with.

But until people understand what truly makes organic healthier (primarily, the absence of chemical pesticides and herbicides that get into our bodies, plus improved soil nutrition from more natural fertilizing measures), there is also a good side to people’s belief–even if it comes from the wrong direction–that organic food is healthier.  Because it is.

Do you assume that organic foods taste better, and have less fat, fewer calories and more fiber?

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4 Responses to Is There a Halo Around Organic Foods? Should There Be?

  1. I assume that they will be healthier and hopefully will taste better…but not that they’ll be lower in calories, fat, etc! One still has to read the label beyond the word organic and make the best choices…

  2. Pingback: Can mKrishna Save Indian Farming? | Organaholic! Organic Food Blog

  3. Suryadi says:

    hello, I also am about to start a juice diet but was wondering if its OK to juice ALL the juice you need for that day in the mrninog instead of having it just juiced when you drink? I don’t think I can juice juice at work thats why I ask and having extra juice on the go would be a way to keep it possible! IDK maybe even juicing a few days in advance? would that work to or does the juice loose the nutrutional value to fast for that? any advice? THANKS! ? and congtrats on your lb loss!!!

  4. hello, I also am about to start a juice diet but was wondering if its OK to juice ALL the juice you need for that day in the morning instead of having it just juiced when you drink?… I don’t think I can juice juice at work thats why I ask and having extra juice on the go would be a way to keep it possible!… IDK maybe even juicing a few days in advance? would that work to or does the juice loose the nutrutional value to fast for that? … any advice? THANKS! ? and congtrats on your lb loss!!!

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