"Organic" Doesn't Always Mean "Low Fat"

(CNN) -- "Organic" doesn't always mean "low-fat," but people still treat organic products that way, according to a new study to be published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making.

Popular culture has promoted strong associations between the concepts of "organic" and "healthy," leading some consumers to believe that organic foods have fewer calories than their non-organic counterparts, the study said. This may also lead people to make choices about foods that are counterproductive to maintaining or achieving a healthy weight. Study authors Jonathon Schuldt and Norbert Schwarz at the University of Michigan did two studies examining this point.

In the first, they randomly assigned 114 college students at Michigan to view a web page with actual nutrition facts about either regular Oreos or Oreos "made with organic flour." Each product had 160 calories in two cookies. Participants responded to questions comparing the calories in the Oreos they had just read about to other cookie brands.

Participants who read nutritional facts about Oreos with organic flour were more likely to judge that product as having fewer calories than other brands, compared with people presented with facts about conventional Oreos. Participants also said that organic cookies were more appropriate to eat more often than the conventional cookies. Both judgments about calories and how often a food should be eaten are factors in obesity, the authors note.

They also found that participants who identified themselves as pro-environment were more likely to judge the organic cookies as lower in calories compared against other brands. This make sense, given that people conscious of the environment value organic processes; the positive qualities of "organic" may translate into other domains such as "low-calorie" in the minds of some people, the authors said.

The second study looked at whether people's perceptions of organic products are associated with how much exercise they think they need. Participants, 215 students at the University of Michigan, read a story about a person facing a choice about fitness. The character Susie, who wants to lose weight, ate roasted vegetables over brown rice for dinner in all versions of the story. Participants saw one of five dessert scenarios: "organic ice cream," "conventional ice cream," "organic cookie," "conventional cookie," and no dessert. The study then asked: Would it be okay for Susie to skip her usual 3-mile run tonight?

Participants were more lenient in saying that she could skip the workout when she chose an organic dessert, compared with those who read about her having a conventional dessert.

"As millions of Americans attempt to lose weight, eating organic foods - even desserts - may be viewed as a substitute for actual weight-loss promoting behaviors," the authors write.

The research did not find an association between the body mass index of participants and their reported choices, but study authors recommend further exploration into the effects of "organic" claims with actual behavior of consumers.

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  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Jun 14, 2010 at 10:44 PM
    I'm so disgusted with how dumb someone would have to be to think that organic means lowfat that I can't even finish reading the article. Organic is precisely as the first poster described it. It has specific standards now in fact, and has to be certified to really be called organic... it's a minimum percentage by law. It has nothing whatsoever to do with fat, calories, or anything so related. Second poster, you're right too... I drink nonfat milk for that very reason. People think they're doing themselves a favor by drinking 2% or even 1% and they're not. Cow milk is made for baby cows that need to gain a TREMENDOUS amount of weight in a very short time, not human people that are trying to maintain a healthy adult weight.
  • by Anonymous on Jun 12, 2010 at 01:48 PM
    Yeah really, who thinks that organic means low-fat? Your own fault if you're an idiot. Buy a dictionary.
  • by Snake Oil? on Jun 12, 2010 at 01:44 PM
    Low fat doesn't always mean low fat. It might be lower than the original, but it may still have significant amounts. Advertising is deceptive. The government allows mincing of words. Been happening for ages. Wanna buy some Snake Oil?
  • by Anonymous on Jun 12, 2010 at 09:50 AM
    I thought organic meant no pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics and was raised naturally. Would have never thought that organic meant low fat, but then again I did not go to college, guess that type of thinking requires higher education.

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