Fair trade, organic diet – better?

I blogged about the health halo effect a while back using information from Brian Wansink’s studies at Subway and McDonald’s*. Bottom line: He asked diners at both fast food joints to guess how many calories were in their fare – the Subway group thought they ate fewer calories because they held the opinion that Subway is healthier (Jared’s doing). They didn’t factor in all the extras and add-in’s like mayo and cheese. And they ate WAY MORE than they thought.

Another recent study in NYC found that the addition of ‘trans-fat free crackers,’ that added 100 calories to the overall intake, led diners to guess that meal was lower by nearly 200 calories. It wasn’t.

Interesting to see in the Boston Globe today that people naturally assume fair trade chocolate (‘fair trade’ allowing us the comfort that the company treats its cocoa farmers well) is lower in calories and meant to be eaten often. Now, chocolate has it’s nutritional and health benefits but the words ‘fair trade’ have nothing to do with them.

Other foods of interest, that is, consumers eating more and more and more of these because of the halo effect are avocado, olive oil, nuts, wine, fruit juice and chocolate. All that have amazing and glorious health effects in moderation.

Notable Note:  Beware of the health halo effect. “Organic,” “fair trade,” “no trans-fat,” “light,” “fat-free,” “heart-healthy” are all terms that connote health and sometimes are true but not always. When the rubber meets the road, an organic jelly bean is, after all, just sugar. And if you bought fair trade coffee at your favorite coffee shop, it doesn’t mean if a little is good, a lot is way better. We can choose more wisely if we don’t place such a high value on marketing terms and perceived health.

*Brian Wansink PhD is Professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University, where he directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

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