Are you falling for the 'health halo'?

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Trying to eat healthily is a little like using performance enhancing drugs in sport. In sport there is a constant battle between those attempting to cheat the system, and those bringing in tests to catch the cheaters. This invariably goes on and on as new types of drugs are produced to help cheating, and then new scientific tests to catch those drugs are developed.

Us Vs. Them

This reminds me of the consumer and the food industry. On the one hand is us, the consumer (or performance enhancer); trying to make healthy choices by educating ourselves on what's in our food. Then there's the food industry (the scientists) putting thousands of new food-like products on supermarket shelves each year, each with a myriad of health claims on the packets. These new foods consist predominantly of the same few ingredients: corn, soy, and wheat, re-processed with new names, new packaging, new marketing campaigns, and new health claims.

What is the health halo phenomenon?

Once a food is deemed “healthy”, we tend to let our guard down and forget about the facts of what we are truly eating – the proverbial fake-food wolf in nutritious sheep clothing. This phenomenon for food has been dubbed the “health halo” effect. Once we are blinded by the halo it can lead to overeating, weight gain, and further confusion.

A good example of the halo in action is the increasingly huge numbers of 'healthy treat' websites pumping out no-sugar or organic snack and dessert recipes. Although some of these options would be better choices than a processed option, that doesn't necessarily make them either an essential, or particularly nutrient dense part of your daily meals. Remember that neither snacks or dessert are strictly speaking 'have to eat' meals, and should only be consumed as part of your planned real food programme.

Secondly, as people are fooled into thinking their choice is a healthy one, they either eat too much of that thing, or make more allowances for other treat foods by justifying that "I've had my healthy food so can afford to eat that treat now". This creates a double-whammy of bad choice followed by worse choice.

We must recognise that this 'health halo' effect serves only the food industry, enabling them to sell us more of their products at a greater price to us.

beware of health halos
beware of health halos
Tricks and traps

Buyer beware. As long as the food industry meets their governing rules and regulations, they can get their products onto shelves along some bold claims. These regulations tend to be vague, and make it easy for a food producer to manipulate their product to meet the criteria.

  • The greater the number of promoted health benefits the greater the dollar price to the consumer.
  • Taking advantage of our wholehearted belief in the term organic - organic jelly beans are still not great.
  • Blinding us with wholegrains; it is very easy for a sugary cereal to still receive a wholegrain tick.
  • Heart foundation ticks are given out based on outdated criteria, and mean less than the cardboard they're printed on.
  • Don't be fooled by front of pack health claims; ingredients are listed from greatest quantities to least. Are there any fake foods in the first 3 ingredients?
The sweet tooth

Finally, there is a lot of information around at the moment regarding the westernised sweet tooth and its effect on the way we eat. At Results Room we believe that getting back to a more natural appreciation of real food and its flavours is the key to building a long term healthy relationship with food.

Food should taste sweet sometimes, but should also in turn be; sour, bitter, salty, and even a bit bland sometimes. Getting used to these other flavour profiles in what we eat deepens our understanding and appreciation of all foods, and develops our palates to have less cravings, less 'sweet tooth' moments, and more hunger for real foods.

There's some thought provoking information in this BBC video. It's well worth making time to see it.