An "organic" label on foods is enough to make people believe the food items are healthier and tastier, new research suggests.
The study included 144 volunteers who were asked to compare what they believed were conventionally and organically produced chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yoghurt and potato chips. All of the products were actually organic, but they were labelled as either "regular" or "organic".
The participants used a scale of one to nine to rate each of the products on 10 attributes, such as overall taste and perception of fat content. They were also asked to estimate the number of calories in each food item and how much they would be willing to pay for each product.
The investigators found that participants preferred almost all of the taste characteristics of the foods labelled as "organic", even though they were identical to those labelled as "regular".
The perception of organic food
The food items with "organic" labels were also perceived as being lower in fat, higher in fibre, significantly lower in kilojoules and worth more money, according to study author Jenny Wan-chen Lee, a graduate student in Cornell University's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
In addition, chips and cookies labelled "organic" were judged to be more nutritious than those believed to be non-organic.
Lee conducted the study to test the theory that people are influenced by what is described as "the halo effect," according to background information in a news release from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. In this case, the researchers set out to see if the "health halo" - the perception that an item that is labelled "organic" is therefore nutritious - would lead people to believe that the "organic" foods tasted better.
The study was slated for presentation at the Experimental Biology annual meeting, in Washington, D.C., of the American Society for Nutrition. Because this research was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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