What's really a healthy choice? What is the health halo?
The health halo is an assumption that a food is healthy based on preconceived notions regarding the product. For instance, if a product labels itself “organic”, an individual is more likely to assume that its caloric and fat content are lower. This is not necessarily true.
Consumers need to become more aware of product label reading - and what to look for. Looking at the front of a package is a good way to start making your choices, but it is essential to remember that the product is trying to market itself to you. Someone has been paid to make the package look appeasing and appetizing so you will pick it up and place it into your shopping cart. Many of the "health" claims on the front of the packaging are not FDA regulated (to de-mystify label claims the FDA has a guide here). However, the white and black box on the back of the packaging is. It is not until you flip over the packaging and read this nutritional label that the truth of what's inside the product will be unveiled.
Pay attention to the serving size and servings per container. A small candy bar can easily be eaten in one sitting, but sometimes there are two servings within one bar. If there two servings per container are listed, then all of the other values on the label must be doubled. If there are three servings, then the other values must be tripled and so on. So quickly, a product that looked like a low energy dense food (a food that has little calories per its weight) becomes a product that is of a much higher energy density.
Ingredients are listed by descending order of weight. This means that the first ingredient on the label is the most abundant in the product.
On "whole wheat breads", if the first ingredient is enriched flour, pick up another product and look for the key words "whole grain". The Whole Grains Council has a comprehensive guide to finding whole grains in products. This is a perfect example of the health halo. While the bread says whole wheat, looks like it's whole wheat, it may not actually be whole wheat upon further investigation.
Hopefully, using these tips can help you find out the products you are really searching for in your local grocers' aisle.
If you have any comments or questions, please leave them! I would love to answer more nutrition related questions in a future article.