Tuesday, April 12, 2011

'Organic' Does not Always Mean 'Healthy'

There is so much confusion about what the term 'organic' actually means. The presence of the little sticker or logo on foods or their packages tends to give people a sense of security about their food, that it is healthier and perhaps safer for them to consume. The trouble is that, oftentimes, this illusion of 'innocence' and overarching sense of 'it's good for you' gives people the green light to indulge and enjoy those foods in larger quantities. The end result, however, is just like any other form of excess caloric intake - subsequent weight gain.

When foods are labelled as 'organic', it is really just an indication of the way that the foods were produced. It means that those foods are free of synthetic ingredients, were grown without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or hormones and were not irradiated or otherwise 'unnaturally' treated. Despite the dominating misconception, there is no direct link between 'organically grown' and 'more nutritious'; in other words, an organically grown apple won't necessarily have more nutrients or goodness than a conventionally grown one. However, it's means of production was more natural and better not only for the planet but in many cases also for the farmer.

Funny enough, despite all this, Cornell researchers have found that people tend to perceive organic foods as having a 'halo effect', meaning that they can do no harm and that their beneficial properties extend way beyond what the term organic actually means. The researchers performed a study where participants were given two foods, one organic and one conventional and were asked to rate them on a series of properties. According to the report, the participants preferred almost all of the taste elements of the organic foods, and also believed they were significantly lower in calories and fat, and higher in fiber and should even cost more. Even organically-labeled chips and cookies were considered to be healthier than their "non-organic" counterparts! The kicker was that in the study, there was actually no difference in the foods; they were identical except for their labels. Gotcha!

It is important that, before we choose to buy foods that are new, different, unfamiliar or more costly, we do at least a little bit of research with regards to what the difference actually is and whether or not it's worth it for us. You wouldn't buy a laptop or TV without doing at least a little bit of comparison shopping, would you? The same principle should extend even further to things that you're putting directly into your body and provide you with sustenance and nutrition!