Can Organic Foods Help You Lose Weight?

Drinking water, exercising, and eating organic foods — three sure-fire ways to good health and, hopefully, your weight loss goal. Right? Well, kind of. If you’ve switched to organically grown foods in the hopes of feeling better and weighing less, you might want to check your cabinets. Turns out, the word “organic” on a food’s label may end up causing you to weigh more.

That’s right. Researchers from Cornell University recently found that people who saw cookies labeled with the word “organic” believed the food to have 40 percent fewer calories than the same label that did not say “organic.” That means they thought, for example, a 100-calorie organic cookie had only 60 calories. Add that up over a year’s time, and that’s a lot of missed calories — and extra pounds.

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Turns out, these types of errors are common for foods considered to be “healthy.” Cornell professor and study co-author Brian Wansink terms these “health halos,” adding, “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.”

So, if you’re noshing on organic cookies and chips, feeling virtuous and smug, you should know they’re probably not any less caloric than the non-organic version, and not any more likely to help you lose weight. In fact, the very notion that they are healthier could lead you to overindulge, causing weight gain. A cookie is still a cookie, after all.

The bottom line? The best organic foods tend to be the ones without the label: fresh fruits and vegetables. Stock up on the organic versions of these and eat plenty of them. A diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower body weight.

Still, we all need to indulge a bit at times. What if you’re faced with an organic food product that you want to eat like, for example, an organic muffin? Wansink’s advice is to take your best guess at its calorie count and then double it. He maintains you’ll end up being more accurate, and probably eat a lot less, too. This trick will help you remember an indulgence is just that, whether it’s organic or not.