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Eat Right Reality Check: “Organic” tastes better? Is better?

April 12th, 2011 by - no comments

This:

Organic’ Label Seems to Make Food Taste Better

SUNDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) — An “organic” label on foods is enough to make people believe the food items are healthier and tastier, new research suggests.

The study included 144 volunteers who were asked to compare what they believed were conventionally and organically produced chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt and potato chips. All of the products were actually organic, but they were labeled as either “regular” or “organic.”

The participants used a scale of 1 to 9 to rate each of the products on 10 attributes, such as overall taste and perception of fat content. They were also asked to estimate the number of calories in each food item and how much they would be willing to pay for each product.

The investigators found that participants preferred almost all of the taste characteristics of the foods labeled as “organic,” even though they were identical to those labeled as “regular.”

The food items with “organic” labels were also perceived as being lower in fat, higher in fiber, significantly lower in calories and worth more money, according to study author Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student in Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

But more so, this:

In addition, chips and cookies labeled “organic” were judged to be more nutritious than those believed to be non-organic.

Has me perplexed.

Has there been an unintended consequence of food labeling, which is meant to help us be more educated about what we eat? Has it instead taught food makers better ways to market and taught us we don’t know but need to be told what food is nutritious?

Certainly food selection has expanded. I think back to the 1984 Robin Williams scene in Moscow on the Hudson when he passes out in overwhelmed ecstasy at all the choices in a grocery store. Stores are even bigger–including big box stores with food!–with even more choices. And we’re really confused about what to eat and how much of it, what with daily recommendations changing and portion sizes at restaurants growing. It’s confusing, overwhelming! We’ve become the  comedic moment in our own space.

Here’s a few rules of thumb:

1. Organic is fine, but there’s no proof it is any more likely to prevent cancer.

2. You’ve probably heard that it’s best to go organic for some fruits and vegetables, such as those you eat the skin of. You’ve probably worried about additives to beef and dairy. That’s reasonable. The definition of organic, the one you need to meet for the FDA to approve you labeling food organic, is: plant foods grown without pesticides and genetic modifications, and for meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products that come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Also, you should know that there are different levels and types of “organic.

3. It’s not necessarily healthier, as in containing more or better nutrients, or more healthful ingredients such as higher fiber and lower fat. You should always consider a variety of factors when choosing your food, including sodium, fat, protein, calories, added sugar, etc.

4. If it’s in a box or package, it’s probably processed, and not terribly healthful — it’s probably more of a treat.

Just keep in mind that what’s on the front of the package is a selling point. It’s what’s on the back (or side or bottom, wherever the details about the nutrition are) that matters. And in the end, we always recommend eating whole, fresh food, vegetable and fruits, whole grains and so forth along with exercise. That’s what is true good health.

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