Organic Foods May Lead to Overeating

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People who eat organic foods may not be eating as healthily as they think, even if by doing so they are avoiding toxic chemicals and helping the environment. New findings presented at the Experimental Biology conference this week in Anaheim, California, show that people underestimate the number of calories in organic snacks by 40 percent. Scientists reported these findings after discovering that people who ate cookies labeled as “organic” believed that the snack contained 40 percent fewer calories than the same cookies without any labeling.

“An organic label gives a food a ‘health halo,’” the study’s coauthor and professor at Cornell University Brian Wansink, PhD, told conference members. “It’s the same basic reason people tend to overeat any snack food that’s labeled as healthy or low fat. They underestimate the calories and over-reward themselves by eating more.”

Surprisingly, those more likely to misjudge calorie counts are consumers who “usually buy organic foods” and nutrition-conscious shoppers who “typically read labels for nutritional information.”

Bottom line? Just because a food is sold by an organic or all-natural manufacturer or retailer (read: Whole Foods) doesn’t automatically make it a low-calorie, low-fat, and/or nutrient-rich choice. Continue to buy organic (better for you and the environment), but read labels more carefully and realize that organic foods often contain the same or more calories than their conventionally made counterparts.

To avoid overeating organic foods, Wasnick told conference members, “Take your best guess at [a food's] calorie count. Then double it. You’ll end up being more accurate, and you’ll probably eat a lot less.”