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Organic label makes foods seem tastier, more healthful

April 10, 2011|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times
  • If we told you these cookies were organic, would they suddenly taste better and have fewer calories?
If we told you these cookies were organic, would they suddenly taste better… (Kevin P. Casey/Los Angeles…)

There's a new "organic" twist on the various creative credos that allow people to rationalize their less-than-stellar eating habits. Among them:

  • The calories in food don’t count if you don't have to pay for the food. (That’s great for shopping at Costco, or when a co-worker brings in doughnuts on Friday.)

  • If you eat something healthy for dinner (like a salad) and then reward yourself with a hot fudge sundae for dessert, the calories cancel each other out.

And now, Cornell University graduate student Jenny Wan-chen Lee has added another myth to this list -- cookies and chips have fewer calories, less fat and more fiber when they are organic.

She discovered this myth when she offered 144 mall shoppers samples of yogurt, chips and chocolate sandwich cookies. Each shopper was given two samples of each food -- one that was supposedly organic and one that was allegedly of the conventional variety. After tasting the food pairs, the shoppers were asked to score both samples on a 9-point scale for qualities including taste and fat content. Lee also asked the shoppers to estimate how many calories were in each food.

RELATED: Estimating calories may be more difficult than you think.

Overall, shoppers consistently said the organic foods were tastier. They also estimated that the organic foods had more fiber, less fat and fewer calories. They even said they’d be willing to pay more for the “organic” snacks than the “regular” ones.

Perhaps you see where this is going.

In actual fact, all of the cookies, chips and yogurts were organic -- indeed they were identical. So Lee concludes that people have a bias in favor of foods with the organic label. She calls this a “health halo.”

As if any chocolate sandwich cookie would qualify as healthy.

Lee presented her research on Sunday at the Experimental Biology 2011 annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

RELATED: Organic food no more nutritious than conventionally grown, review finds.

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