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Are foods labelled organic healthier?

Posted in General Health 04 Apr, 2013

The popularity of organic food is in large part due to the general perception that such foods are healthier, contain fresher ingredients, and thus contain fewer calories. Whether it is for health benefits, or ethical reasons, as consumers it seems our preference for organic foods shows no sign of waning.

The study

According to the Daily Mail a new study reinforces the common belief that organic foods are healthier than conventional foods. The study, conducted by scientists at New York’s Cornell University, found that foods labelled organic influenced people’s perception when choosing foods. The study involved 115 participants, with each participant asked to evaluate three pairs of food products, one labelled organic and one labelled regular. Participants however, were unaware that in truth the food pairings used were actually both organic.

Results showed that despite being the same product, the label greatly influenced how participants valued the taste, price value and health credentials for each food. Hence the study’s participants not only believed that foods labelled organic were more appetising, the majority were willing to pay up to 23% more for the foods labelled organic.

Healthy foods

Organic foods/foods labelled as organic are foods produced to standards, which have helped keep production as natural as possible. In comparison to other foods, fewer chemicals are used, and most pesticides are prohibited. As consumers we believe that foods that have less pesticides are healthier.

The organic labelling experiment further demonstrates what scientists term as the ‘health halo effect’, in which previous studies have shown that as consumers we perceive the term ‘organic’ to mean healthier. However, a study undertaken at Stanford University last year, found that although organic foods did not expose eaters to pesticides, in many cases they contained only slightly more nutritional value than conventional foods. Likewise results showed they did not contain any more health benefits than regular foods.

Following a healthy diet

Whether you prefer purchasing organic foods, or regular foods it is important that along with regular exercise you eat healthily in order to reduce your risk of health complications like obesity, type2 diabetes, and coronary diseases, all which could occur as a result of an unhealthy diet. It is advised therefore you:

  • Include carbohydrates (preferably the whole grain variety) in your meals – which should make up one third of the total foods you eat
  • Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Reduce your intake of sugar
  • Eat less saturated fats
  • Reduce your daily salt intake
  • Eat more oily fish in your diet
  • Always eat breakfast
  • Drink at least two litres of water a day to avoid dehydration

Organic versus regular

There are many benefits to eating produce that has been produced organically. Such benefits include; food is free of genetic modification such as pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. In many cases organic foods have proven to contain fresher ingredients. Such produce arguably is also more environmentally friendly (to soil/water). Organic meat produce also does not contain any hormones.

Regardless of its wellbeing status, the health credentials of foods labelled or sold as ‘organic’ has for many critics been a debatable one. With various studies having opposing beliefs on the health benefits of organic foods, it is imperative that whether you prefer buying organic foods, regular foods, or a mixture of the two, eating a healthy and balanced diet is the most important thing of all.

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