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  • Writer's pictureKevin

Food Advertising: Unhealthy "Health" Foods?

Do you evaluate the "health" claims of the food you eat?

We are constantly bombarded by advertisements. Constantly. But not everything we are told should be taken as fact. Since the first days of advertising, companies have been using the “Halo effect” to spin their products in a positive light, or perhaps mislead customers altogether. The Halo effect (in the food/supplement industry) is when a company markets their product so there is a direct association with something else, something very positive or healthy. Many people would equate this to lying, while others claim it is just simple misdirection. For example, buying something because it is labeled Vegan, Whole-Grain, Organic, or All-Natural does not mean it is healthy. The same goes for any other product: Just because you bought it at your local farmer’s market or organic grocery store does not mean it is good for you.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that individuals who ate at what is commonly perceived as a “healthy” fast food restaurant (like subway) were much more likely to underestimate the amount of calories they consumed (by an average of 151 calories!) when compared to individuals who ate at a “regular” fast food restaurant. But that’s not all. Those who ate a perceived “healthy” fast food entrée were much more likely to get extras, desserts, and calorie containing drinks when compared to those who ate a perceived “unhealthy” entrée. When all the extra calories were added up, the total could double the number of calories from just the entrée alone. The crazy thing to note was that this occurred regardless of whether the individual was well-educated regarding general nutrition or knew next to nothing about nutrition. The researchers concluded: “As a result, meals ordered from “healthy” restaurants can unknowingly contain more calories than meals ordered from “unhealthy” restaurants.” Food quality is very important, but Calorie quantity is equally important, if not more important.

So how can you go take the road less traveled and beat the halo effect? Here are some helpful hints.

· Do not assume that a product does not contain carbohydrates because it says “no sugar”.

· Fruit juice is not the same as whole fruit. Fruit juice is usually just sugar and water. The same goes for “fruit snacks.”

· Granola and trail mix can contain a ton of sugar and fat. Check the nutrition facts.

· “Organic” does not mean less fat or fewer calories when compared to “non-organic”.

· Multi-grain or insert-number-here-grain breads are not necessarily high in fiber.

· “Sugar” goes by many, many, many other names. Familiarize yourself with the main ones. High fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, and barley malt are just a few.

· Some “fruit on the bottom” style yogurt contains more sugar than a regular sized candy bar.

There it is, folks. Don’t fall for the halo effect! I know it’s rampant because I still have friends tell me the chocolate cake they scarf down is “healthy” because they get it from a gluten free bakery. Regardless of what the label reads or what the advertisement says, it is important to “do your homework” to check the ingredients. Check to see if/how the food is processed, and how it compares it to other brands or alternatives.

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