What is the Health Halo?
If it looks healthy and says it’s healthy – then it is, right? Not always. Just because certain products contain added fiber, Omega fatty acids, or have fewer calories than the original version doesn’t mean it has added nutritional benefits.
The “Health Halo”: a term given to those subtle, but persuasive words or phrases listed on food packages or clever marketing schemes. For example, when a food label says “organic” or “low fat”, we tend to automatically believe the food is healthier if not even “good or us”.
The Impact of the Halo
The truth: the “health halo” can cause individuals to overindulge in seemingly harmless foods. Here are some considerations to keep in mind during a trip to the supermarket.
- Fat Free: This does not equal calorie free! These foods often contain higher amounts of sodium or sugar. Fat gives food flavor; when fat is removed from a food, something must take its place so the overall taste is not compromised. This means sugar and sodium take center stage. Compare the original version to the reduced fat version; this might mean that the healthiest choice is to consume just a bit less of the original than the low-fat.
- Gluten Free: Gluten allergies require significant changes in dietary habits. However, not everyone is gluten sensitive; choosing to avoid wheat products may result in the sacrificing of good fiber sources. Consider researching gluten allergies before making the choice to go “G free”. Labeling a product as “gluten free” does not make the food any better or worse to consume. Rather it is a marketing tactic to make the food appear healthier or have an added benefit because of its gluten free status.
- Trans-Fat Free: The devil in disguise. Due to certain FDA regulations, foods are allowed to contain trace amounts of trans-fat (hydrogenated oils) and are still considered trans-fat free. Again, check the label for partially hydrogenated oils. If it is there, it is not trans-fat free.
- Extra Fiber: Choosing high fiber foods is wise and healthy, but when it comes to the added fiber be weary of other “added” ingredients (sugar, salt, etc.). Adding fiber or other nutrients without removing some of the less desirable ingredients doesn’t really equal a health benefit.
- Baked Chips: While it is true – the fat and calories are fewer than the original fried potato chip version, but what else is lurking in that food? Additives (chemicals)! Always evaluate the ingredients! Another point – while these items are not fried, they still contain calories – eating three times the serving size might be worse than eating one serving of the original.
Don’t be Fooled – Take Charge of Food Choices
This might seem like innocent and “healthy” advertising, but in reality the “health halo” can seduce us into sabotaging well-intended efforts. Remember – it is the quantity and quality of calories that count. When possible, choose foods in their most natural form – shop the perimeter of the supermarket and look for fresh produce, nuts, and lean proteins. Remember to check the labels for suspicious advertising claims added ingredients, and hidden calories. Finally, practice being an informed consumer – do research and take charge of your food choices!