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Organic Cheese Puffs: Healthy or a Scam?

April 15, 2012

As Americans become more health-conscious and strive to improve their eating habits, droves of well-intentioned people are falling victim to a new and particularly insidious scam: organic junk food.

The Aura Surrounding the “Organic” Label
There’s no doubt about it – organic is better. Free of pesticides, growth regulators, additives, and other harmful chemicals, organic farming methods benefit both your body and the environment. Americans have been quick to jump on board, and earnings from organic foods have exploded over the last decade, making organics one of the most profitable food industries.

Where there’s profit, there are opportunists – and where there are opportunists, there are scams. Though much of the hype surrounding organic foods is true, the healthy aura surrounding the “organic” label can be misleading and sometimes downright fraudulent.

Are organic strawberries a healthier choice? Absolutely. Is organic, grass-fed beef superior to factory-farmed, corn-fed meat? Unquestionably. But an organic Oreo is still an Oreo. Organic cheese puffs are still cheese puffs. No matter how you spin it, organic junk food is still junk food.

Why Are People Falling for the This Hoax?
Why are people buying into this hoax? Researchers from the University of Michigan found that people consistently overgeneralize the health benefits of organic food. Though organic foods are indeed free from harmful chemicals and are often more sustainably and humanely farmed, they’re not necessarily more nutritious – and certainly not more conducive to weight loss.

In a 2010 study published in the psychology journal Judgment and Decision Making, the majority of subjects believed that organic cookies were lower in calories than conventional cookies and could be eaten more often. Similarly, when evaluating a woman with a weight loss goal, the subjects thought that exercise was less essential to losing weight if the woman ate an organic dessert rather than a conventional dessert.

In short, people tend to blindly associate “organic” with “healthy,” a misconception that biases their everyday judgment about diet and exercise. Marketers perpetuate this misconception through their branding and messaging, further fueling the hoax that is organic junk food.

How to Avoid the Organic Junk Food Scam
So is Stonyfield Farm’s Organic Crème Caramel ice cream a scam? If you interpret the “organic” label to mean “low-calorie and nourishing,” then yes. But if you exercise regularly, eat lots of green veggies, and occasionally like to indulge your sweet tooth with a sugary treat, then organic ice cream is a delicious way to do so without the synthetic hormones or antibiotics found in most conventional dairy products. Ultimately, it’s all about understanding that the term “organic” refers to how the food was produced – not necessarily how nutritious it is.

Whether you’re shopping for organic foods or not, the key to avoiding any scam is to read labels, focus on nutrient-rich forms of nourishment, and go for whole, unprocessed foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Ice cream and cheese puffs, organic or not, are best to eat only on occasion and in moderation.