The “Organic” Myth on your Plate

Organic apparently is confused with guilt-free living. Do you think that the organic ice cream you ate last night has fewer calories than the non-organic kind? If you do, you’re not alone. Interestingly, the more “green” you are the more likely you are to let yourself off the hook for your high calorie treats. That little “organic” label may trick you into skipping your workout too.

A recent study entitled “The Organic Path To Obesity” published in Judgment and Decision Making looked at the impressions people have of the calories in organic versus conventional Oreos. Researchers had 114 college students fill out a questionnaire about themselves to determine their lifestyle. The students were then asked to compare nutrition labels on various food items. Although the term “organic” does not imply any information about the calories, the subjects judged the organic version to be lower in calories.

People who were categorized as “pro-environmental” and therefore more inclined to support the organic market had an even more skewed view. The more pro-environmental the subjects were, the more likely they were to falsely believe the organic cookie would be lower in calories than the conventional alternative.

Plus, the study found that people were more likely to think it was permissible to skip a work-out if a person dieting ate an organic dessert. According to the researchers, “these results demonstrate that their influence of organic claims extends beyond calorie judgments and consumption recommendations to impact judgments about the need for physical exercise—another key factor in obesity.”

In fact, the subjects were about as lenient on letting her skip slots online the exercise if she had the organic dessert than if she didn’t have any dessert at all!  Wouldn’t that be nice?

OK, So What Does Organic Actually Mean?

The term “organic” means that the food was grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, or sewage sludge. It also cannot be genetically modified or irradiated. When you’re looking at a processed food, use this guide to help decipher the terminology:

  • 100% Organic: Just as it says. All of the ingredients and anything used in processing must be organic. This product will bear the USDA Organic seal.
  • Organic: At least 95% of the ingredients must be certified organic. The package will also show the USDA Organic seal.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: Between 70 and 94 percent of the ingredients must be organic, but these packages will not have the USDA Organic seal.

Although this study illuminates how an organic claim can erroneously affect our judgment, it is important to keep in mind that the subjects used were all college students. It is possible that the results might not be applicable to the general population. Regardless, the next time you’re out shopping for treats like cookies, chips, candy or ice cream, remember that organic sugar is still sugar as far as your body is concerned!  Enjoy your treat in moderation, and keep in mind that it is not necessarily lower in calories than the traditional version.

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