Are You Choosing a Food for it’s Health “Halo”?

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Do the terms “organic” or “natural” make you view a food or beverage a little differently? Are you more likely to pick up a package with muted green and brown tones and the words “all natural” on front? For the past few years a few studies have shed light on the possibility¬†that people attribute better nutrition and better health to foods with a health halo. ¬†And, recent research proves this theory is a reality when it comes to organic products.

Sunday at the 2011 Experimental Biology meeting in our nation’s capital, Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student at Cornell University, presented her research on this health halo effect – do people mistakenly view foods as more healthy if those foods are organic? In a double-blind, controlled study, Lee asked participants about their thoughts on conventionally and organically labeled cookies and potato chips. Each participant rated the food on 10 different attributes using a 1 to 9 scale.

Though both the conventional and organic foods were actually the exact same food product, the foods labeled organic were perceived as more tasty, lower in calories and fat and higher in fiber and finally, participants were more willing to pay a higher price tag for these foods.

What does this mean for you the consumer? Don’t be fooled by the term organic or any other term such as “natural” or “minimally processed.” Likewise, don’t be fooled by the muted natural looking colors on packages like the muted greens and browns that make you think of nature. Take a food for what it is by looking at the label and considering how it fits into your overall diet.

As Lee stated in her study abstract, the term “organic” may generate a more positive impression of certain foods that are not necessarily healthy or nutritious.