We’ve all been there. You’re walking down the aisles of the grocery and can’t help but notice the call outs on products. Low fat! Multigrain! Full of vitamins!
How true are these labels?
Courtney McCormick, Corporate Dietitian at Nutrisystem, says some might be too good to be true and encourages you to avoid these six “healthy” foods.
1. Low-fat snacks
Studies at Cornell have found that we tend to eat 50 percent more of foods labeled “low fat” than the regular version of the product. Scientists call this “the halo effect,” because eating things we perceive as healthy makes us feel virtuous. Also, many low-fat foods tend to have more sugar to compensate for the lack of fat, which adds flavor. Stick to natural low-fat snacks, such as fruits and veggies. Or, if you’re opting for low-fat, be very mindful of your portion sizes. Just because a snack is low-fat doesn’t mean you can eat the whole box.
I’ve often joked that the only reason baked chips are listed as healthier than their traditional counterparts is because you get less product per bag. Apparently, my jokes weren’t too far from the truth.
We’ve discovered that Baked Cheetos in particular actually have 70 more calories than their crunchy counterparts. It’s an excellent example of how “positive” branding can make a consumer assume a product is healthy, even when it isn’t.
This is what’s known as a health halo. It’s the perception that one thing is healthy or has healthy qualities because something with similar qualities is healthy. Using the Cheetos example; we know baked foods are usually healthier than fried foods, so when consumers see the word “baked” on a label, they assume the product is better for them.
If you have never heard the term “health halo” before, you are not alone. In fact, this buzz phrase is not used all that often in common conversation; however, it is something dietitians use once in a while to explain the effect certain foods have on our overall healthy meal perceptions.
The term “health halo” has actually been around for quite a few years. In fact, a few researchers from Cornell in 2007 brought up the issue of health halos and some of the fast food restaurants that wear them in an effort to identify why the obesity epidemic continues despite the fact that more “healthified” foods seem to become available by the day.
At first, you may be confused by what the term actually means, but when you think about it, it’s actually a clever way to identify foods that claim to be more than what they really are. For example, foods that carry a low-fat claim may cause someone to identify them as healthy – although this may not be the case. Whether this food is healthy or not, believing that it is may cause inhibitions to be lowered and result in eating more and underestimating calories all at the same time. Foods that cause this to happen are considered to be under a “health halo” and you want to watch out for these if weight loss or maintenance is a primary goal for you.
If identifying health halos seems like a challenge, don’t worry! There are many ways to not let that pesky halo get the best of you.