“Organic, and Natural, and Clean…Oh my!”

When discussing “healthy” foods, many consumers use words such as “organic,” “natural,” or “clean.” Do these words really indicate a more nutritious product? Not so fast. Just like the famous saying, “never judge a book by its cover,” never judge a food by its packaging!

According to the Organic Trade Association’s 2013 US Families Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study, US families are embracing organic products. Approximately 81 percent reporting they purchase these products sometimes, with produce being the leading category of organic purchases. Further, nearly half (48 percent) purchase organic because these products are “healthier for me and my children.”

A phenomenon known as “the halo effect” has been investigated for years. Cornell University researchers specifically investigated this phenomenon in relation to food. Termed the “health halo,” it is thought that a particular trait of a food can be influenced by how we perceive other traits of the same food. One positive attribute in a product can radiate a “halo”, which results in perception that the food is positive overall. In this particular study, investigators conducted a side-by-side evaluation of identical products including chips, cookies, and yogurt. Results indicated consumers perceived organics as significantly lower in calories. They were also willing to pay almost 25% more for them when labeled “organic.” Further, the label “organic” skewed consumer’s taste buds; the “organic” chips seemed more appetizing, and “organic” yogurt was more flavorful.

How does the “health halo” apply to you?
As evidenced, the halo effect applies to foods, and may influence what, and how much we eat. If a food is thought to be more nutritious, people are more inclined to eat a larger portion of that food.

Food for thought:
Look out for food products whose labeling seems too good to be true. Always read the ingredients to learn what is in your food. Rather than seeking out the newest “natural” packaged food product, focus on enhancing your diet with a variety of seasonal produce, lean proteins, high-fiber grains, and low-fat dairy (or alternative dairy) products.

See these related links:
More Parents Purchasing Organic Products, April 8, 2013
Organic vs. Conventional Foods – Dirty Dozen, August 31, 2012
Daily Candy Interview with FEED – How Not to Spend your Whole Paycheck, July 12, 2010

Lara Field MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Specialist in Pediatrics with over a decade of clinical and client experience. When she’s not actively working to keep her clients healthy, she’s a busy mother of two active boys and loves testing new recipes in her kitchen. Follow her on Instagram to see her recipe ideas, product suggestions, and see how she manages a healthy lifestyle @larafield.