Beating the Health Halo

After spending a couple days at the Natural Products Expo, it occurred to me how easily food manufacturers manipulate us regarding the healthfulness of packaged foods. When we purchase foods packaged in a pretty shade of green, or when we see terms like Natural,Vegan, Gluten-Free, Paleo-Friendly and Sugar-Free, many of us assume we're buying or consuming a healthy option. But that isn't necessarily the case.

There's even a name for the impact of this sort of..ahem...carefully branded packaging with the intent to make consumers believe they're buying healthy food: The Health Halo.


We feel better about eating foods with this reassuring language on the packaging, or maybe we're calmed by that pretty green pastoral scene, and food manufacturers are banking on the fact that we’re more likely to eat them in greater portions, whether they’re actually healthy or not. That glow you see emanating from the protein bar with the label "All Natural!" or "Gluten Free!"—that’s a health halo.

Many terms on packaging, including “Natural,” are unregulated by the FDA and actually mean zip, zero, zilch. “Natural” and other terms mentioned above (unlike the term Organic), don’t legally guarantee anything about the way a food was grown, whether there are ingredients excluded from the product, or how nutritious a product is. Pretty packaging and those powerful words are marketing techniques designed to make foods appear healthier and to encourage us to eat more of them.

So how do you beat the manufacturers at their game and shake off the halo?

Ignore every claim on the front of the package of processed food.

In fact, I would even go as far as to say skip the ingredient facts until you’ve taken this step first:

Read the ingredient list.

Determine whether the product is made with ingredients recognizable as real food.

Decide whether those ingredients that you actually want to consume, and only then move your gaze over to the ingredient facts to get a handle on serving size and all that jazz. And use common sense! If a package of chocolates is branded to look like a super healthy dessert that will cure all ills, don't take the claims at face value. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Still not sure if you’re choosing nutritious foods for yourself and your family? Let’s talk!