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'Organic' Labels May Lead to Overeating

By , SparkPeople Blogger
It's no secret that I am a strong supporter of organic foods and agriculture. Probably 95% of the food I buy is organic. While research on the health benefits of organic is mixed, I don't think it could hurt to limit my exposure to pesticides and genetically modified organisms, but more importantly, I believe in the environmental benefits of growing food organically.

It was about 10 years ago that I first discovered organic food and started shopping at "natural" foods stores. I didn't know much back then about nutrition or healthy eating, but all the new-to-me foods I encountered in those small markets piqued my interest. I would fill my cart with organic cookies, soy ice cream (I never knew that existed!), and other goodies, fully believing that these foods were "healthier" for me than the products in my local grocery store. And of course, healthy meant "lower in calories," as far as I was concerned. I'd munch away on exotic flavors and new foods, certain I was doing something good for my health.

I've since learned, thanks to my own research, a little more experience, and a good college education that also included nutrition classes, that the term "organic" doesn't necessarily mean healthy. Unfortunately, "organic" is yet another label that falls under the health halo, meaning that consumers read into it, well, things that aren't really there, like that it's healthier, lower in fat, lighter in calories, or promotes weight-loss.

The study conducted by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab was recently presented at the Experiment Biology Conference in Anaheim, California. It found that people who at cookies labeled "organic" believed the snack contained 40% fewer calories than similar cookies that weren't labeled.

Remember how fat-free and low-fat foods of the 90s didn't make us any skinner? And we later learned that people assumed fat-free meant calorie-free and therefore overate on the "healthier" fare? Well this is sort of the same thing.

I can't tell you how many times I have encountered people who believe that those pizzas, muffins, pastries and other "junky" foods sold at Whole Foods (or similar) are good for you. Don't fret if you thought the same thing. It's partly what food manufacturers and marketers WANT you to think and it leads you to eat more, which means you're buying more and they're making more money. Consider this a public service announcement that many highly sought-after labels—organic, natural and the like—don't mean much when it comes to calories (or the healthfulness of a product). Let this also be a reminder that you should always, I mean ALWAYS, turn a package over to read the ingredients list and look at the food label. Packaged foods can get away with a lot when it comes to making claims about the purported health benefits of their products, but it would serve us well to never looked at that oh-so-clever marketing copy on a box and go straight to the nutrition facts label to get the real details.

Have you ever made the mistake that organic or natural foods were healthier or lower in calories? Do you agree with the results of this study?

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I do connect organic with healthier but only healthier then its non-organic counter part. As in organic cookies are made with ingredients that do not have all those nasty chemicals and hormones. However I have never thought because something is organic then it must have fewer calories.
I think that is just a misunderstanding of what organic means. I didn't read the study but it just seems like a waste of time all that was needed was a definition of organic and some common sense. I mean all one needs to do is read the label the numbers are right there.

Q: Have you ever made the mistake that organic or natural foods were healthier or lower in calories?
A: No. How wacked is that? Where is the logic in that? I don't get this at all.

Q: Do you agree with the results of this study?
A: I'd have to read the study first. It's incredible to me. Junk foods sold at organic stores is nothing new; and to be stayed away from; I agree with that. You have to shop the perimeter even when it's an organic store. Report
the pesticides used in commercial organic food is worse for you than pesticides used in non organics. also, organic foods take more land to grow and are therefor worse for the environment. Report
Immediately I drew a parallel to gluten-free foods. People tend to think gluten-free should be healthier and lower in calories, but it may be just the opposite. I cook for 3 GC on gluten-free and find their pasta, etc. are much higher in calories and do not contain fiber and other valuable nutrients. As you state, always read the labels thoroughly. Report
Commercial companies that try to get people to believe that organic foods are no different than any others would sell an empty box with nothing in it.They just sell things and do what ever it takes to get you to buy it. Report
Wow - hard to believe that people would equate "organic" with "lower calorie." Obviously these people aren't gardeners - organic refers to how it is grown! I've been part of the organic movement since I planted my first garden in 1990.

For those of you who want to buy organic but feel it is too expensive, look for the list of the "dirty dozen" - it's a list of which fruits and veggies typically carry the most pesticide residues, so it really makes a difference when you can get those items organically grown.
I think the problem with Whole Foods is the novelty of it - people haven't had organic ice cream, so they decide to give it a try. I really don't think people are THAT dumb to think that it's necessarily less calories n' stuff. Report
I read an artical on organic produce in the Washington Post and couple of years ago that gave me good clarification on what "organic" really means and that helped me make informed decisions. I think when we hear about a "new" or "buzz" word in the food world, we really need to get informed before we make assumptions. The marketing world is very informed when it comes to finding ways to get us to buy their products and we need to stay just as informed to know when it's real, assumed or pumped up hype. Report
I've never known or thought because it's listed natural and/or organic meant that the product was low fat or lower calories as that is not necessarily the case. It's supposed to be more green and a healthier choice. We need to educate ourselves and sometimes, can be more harm than good! Report
The dumbing down of America should surprise no one in our current pop culture, and this article sure doesn't surprise me either. And yet no one is tested before procreating or voting, lol. Report
There is a lot of discussion about the definition of 'organic', but to me it should mean herbicide/pesticide free at least. If that is important to you, as it was when I was raising my children, it is nice to know instant options are available (think Panda licorice rather than stuff with Red#2) But I was never of the mindset that organic 'junk' food was something that could be gobbled with impunity. I often bought organic flours to make cookies at home. Report
I don't know if ORGANIC will get one to necessarily over eat, but eat JUNK....just because it is Oranic...THAT happens regularly. People need to read labels....calories count no matter whether they are organic or not. Report
Have you tried Ezekiel 4:9 bread? Report
Organic is healthier than its non-organic counterpart. It doesn't mean that makes it a sound choice but if you were going to eat a product anyway, the organic one is going to be healthier. Not less caloric, not lower in fat; but not full of pesticides, additives, preservatives. We still do not have a complete picture of what those little goodies do to our systems and our weight. Report
Reading labels is something that I just recently started to do. I was surprised at the amount of sugar products that are in some ingredients. Today I read the label of Mirin - Kikkoman Aji Mirin (Sweet Cooking Rice Wine - 8% alcohol)...OMG, you wouldn't believe the amount of sucrose, etc. in the Mirin. And there are 70 calories in 2 tablespoons. Report
You have got to be kidding me... Report
I find it really sad that people don't actually take the time to look at the BACK of a product where the nutritional information is. They just look at "fat-free" or "organic" on the front and think they are perfectly okay.

It takes only a few more seconds to scan through the ingredients list people! Report
Processed is processed... Report
I really agree...i see it often...my husband for example b/c of health issues (prostate cancer) has opted for a vegan / raw foods diet...which has been great...but he eats too too much...sounds crazy but raw food places use a lot of nuts and seeds to thicken and make dressings..yum, but concentrated nuts means big calories and fat. He will opt for a "fruit" smoothie...as opposed to a bowl of split pea soup (cause its cooked and a fruit smoothie is "raw") and the calories in that is 3 - 4 x's the calories. He is not completely thinking. I am losing weight and i see him putting on weight. And I am eating regular just really thinking about what I consume and reading labels. Report
Unfortunately, the first requirement for knowing what's in food is reading the label, and the average American reads at a second month, fifth grade level... they read as well as a fifth grade student read in late October of 1910. Which means that most labels, written by nutritionists, take them two or three readings to fully and completely understand. Who has time to read something three times? Report
I do think organic foods are healthier and buy them when possible. But calories are calories, healthy or not. Sugar is sugar organic or not. You still have to read ingredients, read labels and decide what's best for your goals. If I decide to splurge and have a treat, I'd rather it be an organic treat! Report
I can understand how people would confuse the two. On the other hand, I would like to think that people are smarter than that. Unfortunately, time after time people prove they aren't.

I buy organic as much as I can. Sometimes there isn't an organic option. However, along with buying organic, I also try to buy whole foods as much as I can and I will not eat soy products due to the potential harmful effects on the thyroid and female hormones. I don't buy the biscuits and the ready-made foods.

And when I do look at foods, organic or otherwise, I always read the label. Report
I am so torn about buying organic foods. If I absolutely insist on doing that, I am subject to "feeding" into huge transportation costs, trucking/training these foods from across the world. So I'm careful, limit WHEN I buy foods so they don't have to come from Itsy Zozy, New Tanzania, and I buy what is in season and grown in my community. Eventually, I believe more will be available locally. For now, I'm trying to limit what I buy which creates such huge carbon footprints. It's a hard thing to do, considering I have been so spoiled in getting whatever I want whenever I want it -- but requires carting things from everywhere at a huge carbon cost. It's all about ... as most things in life ... thinking of a greater picture when you spend you money. Report
I did! It has been 5 years since I have been eating organic foods.
When I started to research about organic foods, I read an article
that was similar to yours. Just because it has natural on it does
not mean its organic! When I learned this, eating organic wasn't so
hard! And I don't continue to eat organic because I am brainwashed.
Through experience I learned my body digests organic foods better and
I don't eat as much because my body is being nourished. This works for me.
Our bodies have different needs, but one need we share is to nourish our bodies with pure holsome foods! Stay away from the packaged and processed!! You
just might feel better! Report
I'd never really thought about this issue, but after thinking about it, I've done it. Not a lot, but some. Its easy to be duped by the packaging/claims. Sometimes its frustrating, but once you realize, then you can change. That's why these types of articles are important. So people understand what they are doing unconsciously can be the wrong thing. Report
Good article and I agree--read the ingredients, check label for fat grams, fiber, protein etc.. Even with organic foods moderation is still the key. Report
Organic to me means pesticide and fertilizer free and the ground or area grown should not have had fertilizer additives for five or ten years... doesn't effect the calories but maybe flavour. Report
Good article!. I believe that people think that eating organic is eating healthy, low-cal, low-fat, etc.
Some people are not well-educated about what they put in their mouths. I see it all the time at my work-place, where they think that because they are ordering a Cob Salad (full of bacon, cheese, ranch or blue dressing, etc) they are eating healthy or something "diet". Report
It kinda reminds me of an episode of 'King of the Hill' I watched recently, where they banned trans-fats in Arlen, which resulted in Bill constantly eating junk food because it was 'healthy' and didn't have any transfat. Which of course meant he gained a lot of weight by the end of the episode.
This won't shock me if it was actually true. The American media really feeds the uniformed public a lot of junk about this and most people believe it. Before I believe anything though, I want to know who paid for this study and look at the people they asked. They can really cherry pick for these studies and who knows how manipulated data is?

In any case, I happen to live 100 plus miles from the nearest Whole Foods. The only organic stuff I see at our grocery stores, all the chains(WalMart, Schnucks and stuff) and it's mostly fruits and veggies. I don't have the money to eat the stuff they sell at these places so I try and get fruits and veggies at local farmer's markets. I CAN NOT afford the organic meats so I deal. I also refuse to eat real sugar so I will stick with my overprocessed unhealthy splenda thank you very much. Report
Maybe I'm crazy... but over eating is caused by ... wait for it... EATING TOO MUCH??? It doesn't matter if it's healthy, fat free, fat filled, fried, homegrown, homemade, store bought or organic. If we shovel too much into our mouths, it is over eating. Read the label, check out the portion size, eat the right amount.
We, the people, need to start taking responsibility for eating too much and stop blaming the food industry, grocery stores and the latest fad diet. A label on a box, bag or sign does not lift the fork to my mouth. The guy on the tv ad does not put double the portion size into my bowl. The lady on the cover of the magazine does not cause me to binge eat.
Okay, I'll step of my organic, vegan, fragrance free, non-carcinogenic soap box now. Report
I don't think I've ever thought that there was a correlation between "organic" and "calories." Organic is what the food contains and how it was grown: organic sugar is still sugar, organic flour is still flour. Better for you, yes. But "better for you" also isn't necessarily tied to weight loss, either. Report
Um...really? Who assumes things about anything at any market without reading the nutritional information? Maybe I'm just a nutritional info junkie, but nothing goes into my cart until I see the calories per serving, size of a serving, and amounts of redeeming nutrients like protein and fiber. Report
Um...really? Who assumes things about anything at any market without reading the nutritional information? Maybe I'm just a nutritional info junkie, but nothing goes into my cart until I see the calories per serving, size of a serving, and amounts of redeeming nutrients like protein and fiber. Report
Thanks leonalioness for your comment! It was truely informative. I love to shop at whole foods, when I can afford it :) truthfully I am slowly switching to organics so my percentage of the products I buy is probably lower than alot of other commentors but I'm trying. I don't want to shop organic because I think it is lower calorie because I know it's not. I want to shop organic because of the nutrients that are essential to our diets and are taken out of most processed foods. Report
You know it just seems natural to think "Healthy Foods" should be lower in calories. This just reminds of that we all must become good Label Readers, no matter what the marketing pull is! Report
I had a bit of a "duh" moment when reading this article. But, I guess there are a lot of people out there who do fall victim to the "organic=healthy=weight loss" trick that marketers play on you. But, a cookie is a cookie no matter whether it is made from organic flour and sugar or not. It is just a cookie with less pesticides and chemicals. So technically, yes, it is healthier because you are not ingesting chemicals and preservatives... but you are still ingesting lots of sugar and calories, which leads to weight gain.

That is like people who eat healthy and organic and yet still use sweet n low or splenda. My mother was visiting the other weekend and in the am when she was making her coffee, I said, "sorry. All I have is Organic Raw Sugar, no splenda." I would much rather have the 15 calories that comes from my organic raw sugar, produced in Hawaii than the calorie-free chemicals used to create Splenda. I think the 15 calories is a healthier choice. BUT, I include those 15 calories into my daily caloric intake when counting calories. I don't blow them off. Report
Thank you for the article and for pointing out the study(ies) but then i always want to ask who funded the study, how did they collect the data and what was the population for this broad assertion. No I don't agree with the study and of the people I know who shop at Whole Foods none believes or thinks or reasons the food has LESS calories. Some do shop to cut the pesticides but many like myself buy organic because you can tell the ripeness of the food PERIOD. If the fruit or veggie is organically grown then no irradiation, no pesticides, no wax , no whatever is supposed to be used. I tried shopping at the local Farmer's Mkt where some of the sellers say their produce is organic but took it in and had it analyzed and sure enough pesticides, so back to Whole Foods at least they check their producers and so does Kroger Central Mkt etc So people should also beware in this area when they think they're helping the local farmer who is really doing a con on them. Report
Great Advice! ALWAYS read the labels!

Thanks for the great information! Report
What gets me are the organic kids cereals. So, sure there are studies out there that indicate that exposure to pesticides and artificial dyes may contribute to some of the behaviorial symptoms of kids on the austistic spectrum or dealing with ADHD, but the high sugar content of the colorful cereals are no better choices than the non-organic "big brands". It's the PROCESSED stuff that is still processed.

Organic may only mean healthier in terms of being less chemical laden than its non organic counterpart that came from overseas. Report
a few years ago i bought a very tasty looking cooking organic cookie. i was very surprised to find out it was so high in fat and calories. lucky it was good! i've read the labels since then. Report
Once again wishing we had a Whole Foods or some similar grocer closer than 600 miles away. *sigh*

But, I hear the point of the article. Just because something is sold in a health food store doesn't make it calorie free. It's something that people fall for, though. I know I have in the past. Report
Organic only means the way in which it was raised, without chemicals. I wonder why it costs so much more for less expense to grow? Report
Well, in regards to the processed snacky foods at Whole Foods they ARE healthier for you - we don't allow artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors or preservatives, added trans fats, hydrogenated oils and our private label products are all sourced non-GMO. Our list of unapproved food additives is very long and products containing those items aren't allowed on our shelves. In fact, General Mills revamped some of their cereals (Cheerios, for one) to fit our standards and get on our shelves. They didn't meet our standards before they did that. Also, all organic food is sourced non-GMO and cannot have persistent petroleum based -cides on it. That is healthier.

Note the -IER. That's the important bit. A cookie is still a treat, even if it's one made with organic whole wheat flour, organic nuts and lacks hydrogenated oils. Is it a better option than the processed flour, trans fat stuffed, corn syrup sweetened goodie in a conventional grocer? Of course! Is it magically not going to create weight gain if you overeat? Not a chance.

When I get goodies, I prefer to get the healthier options. Vegan, whole grain, no hydrogenated oils, natural sweeteners. I exclusively shop at Whole Foods (gotta use my employee discount, right?) and believe that our food is high quality and healthier - you just need to use common sense. Snacks are snacks. Period. Report
Organic means lack of chemicals not calories. I would love to go completley organic but can't afford to. I do try to eat foods as much unprocessed foods as possible. the survey does not surpise me though, people seem to lazy to educate them selves. Report
I feel better about eating organic foods and feeding them to my children. And even though they are not lower in calories just closer to nature. Organic Sugar is still sugar, Organic Beef is still beef it is all in the way it was grown or raised. Know your farmer and you will truly appreciate what organic or naturally grown means. Report
The thing with Organic is that it DOES taste better. Sometimes I go to whole foods or Nature's Pantry and pick up a meal if I'm out and can't get to food as opposed to going to a fast food place. I find I almost always overeat when I do. I believe last time I got a bag of dehydrated apple chips and a turkey roll up and I ate the whole wrap (2 servings) and over half the bag (4 servings of apple chips)-despite preportioning it out. That doesn't count the pineapple juice I got with it but knew I shouldn't. I know the food isn't lower calorie, but when something tastes as good as organic, I HAVE to have help or I will eat the whole thing. I can usually stop if I portion food out, but at those stores I need to stick to the salad and scrape off half the toppings somewhere I can't go "quest for fire" on them later because they do overstack their premade foods, just like anyone else. Report
I also buy organic 95% of the time. But like I told a friend, "Organic food doesn't mean there aren't any calories in it". I feel better knowing that I'm not putting a bunch of pesticides/chemicals in my body, but a calorie is a calorie & still you have to be aware of the amount you're eating. Report
Personally, I would take a grain of salt with any study that comes out these days. The media is notorious for cherry picking the bits of studies that grab the headlines. So, before I pass judgment, I'd have to read the full abstract first.

However, I could see some people eating more organic food thinking that eating more "healthy" food would make them more healthy. The problem is that just because something is organic doesn't mean it doesn't have calories. Trader Joe's makes organic pop tarts. French fries are vegan and can be organic. Does that make those items calorie free ? Nope...

I remember the whole Snackwell's issue. The stores couldn't keep Snackwell's on the shelves. Everyone thought that eating fat is what made them fat. Nope, eating too much is what made them fat. So, when they ate a Snackwell's Devil's food cookie, they didn't realize that each cookie had over 100 calories each !!!

I knew people who ate entire boxes of Snackwell's because they thought that they could eat as many as they wanted and not get fat. I'll admit, I ate them too, just not the entire box. I didn't know each cookie was over 100 calories.

People need to be better informed about nutrition. They can't believe the hype. The food industry will do anything to make the food more enticing to buy. thus the need to be an informed consumer.

Yeah... As others have said, ORGANIC means something, but it doesn't mean low cal or low fat! It has to do with the way it was raised. I buy organic sugar, but it is still SUGAR. I buy organic cereal bars for my diaper bag... but they are still cereal bars! It is willful ignorance to think that just because something is organic, means that it is healthy. It is simply a better alternative. I choose these things because I want to reduce my chemical intake for myself and my family. Report
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