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.
Health halos aren’t limited to Cheetos. You don’t have to search the grocery shelves too hard to find other foods getting more glory than they deserve.
Naked Juice has, well had, one of the biggest health halos out there. By advertising their beverages with phrases like “no sugar added” and “all-natural,” Naked led consumers to believe their products were truly healthy.
That was until last year when Naked agreed to settle a class action lawsuit accusing them of deceptive labeling. The term in question? “All-natural” was contested because Naked Juice products contained ingredients such as genetically-modified soy, alternative sweeteners, and a substance synthetically made from formaldehyde. All of these ingredients are decidedly not natural.
Naked agreed to remove “All Natural” from its labels and pay a $9 million settlement. Labels can be troublesome for brands and easily mislead consumers.
One label used to imply health? Cholesterol free. Only animal-based foods (meats, cheeses, etc.) contain cholesterol, so a food made from grains (crackers, cereal) shouldn’t have any to begin with.
The same can be said for vegan foods. Sure, a vegan diet can be incredibly healthy, just keep in mind that foods like Oreos are also vegan which makes you think twice about that “cream” filling.
Big brands are not alone in the glow of health halos. Common foods like muffins (ugly cupcakes) and nutrient-enhanced waters (flavored sugar waters) are just as bad.
Consumers can also find health halos when they dine out. Subway, for example, promotes itself as a healthier alternative to other fast food places. While that may be true when comparing a turkey sandwich to a cheeseburger, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research by Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink stated people order up to 131 percent more calories worth of drinks, sides, and desserts when they order a healthy entree. For example, think of those cookies right next to the register at Subway or Panera.
When it comes to making healthy eating choices, ignore the hype and the halos and check the labels yourself. Just because something seems like it’s healthy, doesn’t mean it is. Trust your instincts and read the labels. You’ll soon figure out what is actually healthy and what is not.
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