by Cornell University

Is organic better for the organs?

Research shows no visible difference

Research shows no visible difference
Is organic better for the organs?

For consumers, the organic labels on food can mean different things, from fresh, pesticide free, free from genetic modification or simply, higher quality. Due to this effect on consumers, the 'organic' label carries a lot of weight, especially for people who strive to be healthy. Studies show that this label can create what researchers are calling the ‘health halo effect’.

A study by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab researchers, set out to find if there was more to this effect. Their study shows that an organic label can influence much more than health views. Things such as perceptions of taste, kilojoule content and value can be significantly altered when food is labelled 'organic'.

For the study, 115 people were recruited from a local shopping mall in Ithaca, New York. Participants were asked to evaluate three pairs of products— two yoghurts, two cookies and two potato chip portions. One item from each food pair was labelled ‘organic’, while the other was labelled 'regular'. The trick to this study was: all of the product pairs were organic and identical. Participants were asked to rate the taste and kilojoule content of each item, and how much they would be willing to pay for them. A questionnaire also inquired about their environmental and shopping habits.

Even though these foods were all the same, the ‘organic’ label greatly influenced people’s perceptions. The cookies and yoghurt were estimated to have significantly fewer kilojoules when labelled ‘organic’ and people were willing to pay up to 23.4% more for them.

The nutritional aspects of these foods were also greatly biased by the health halo effect. The ‘organic’ cookies and yoghurt were said to taste ‘lower in fat’ than the ‘regular’ variety, and the ‘organic’ cookies and chips were thought to be more nutritious. The label even tricked people’s taste buds: when perceived as ‘organic’, chips seemed more appetising and yoghurt was judged to be more flavourful. ‘Regular’ cookies were reported to taste better – possibly because people often believe healthy foods are not tasty.

Who is less susceptible? This study found that people who regularly read nutrition labels, those who regularly buy organic food, as well as those who exhibit pro-environmental behaviours (such as recycling or hiking) are less susceptible to the organic ‘health halo’ effect.

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