Health Halo Effect
Simply put, the health halo effect leads people to overestimate the overall healthfulness of a food based on one narrow attribute. Health halos are proven to cause people to eat more food than they intended, such as eating two organic cookies when you would normally only eat one nonorganic cookie. Studies have shown that people eat far more low-fat foods than they do traditional versions. The same also is true for people with diabetes who eat too many sugar-free foods, inaccurately believing that if they are sugar free, they are either low in carbohydrates or carbohydrate free.
So, how do you not fall prey to the hype? The following tips should help.
Trans fat-free foods generally contain the same amount, or more, total fat and saturated fat as foods that do not have trans fat.
Only foods that are animal based (meat, poultry, eggs, cream, and cheese) contain cholesterol. All cereals and crackers are cholesterol free, because they are grains.
Organic foods are not lower in calories and fat than nonorganic foods.
Whole-grain foods are not necessarily lower in calories and fat or higher in fiber. For instance, “12-grain” or “multigrain” breads are not necessarily high in fiber. However, whole-grain cereals that are coated in sugar are still a more appropriate choice for dessert than for breakfast.
Yogurt, juice, crackers, cereal bars, and other foods that are “high fiber” do not contain the same amount of fiber found in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. Save your money.
A food that contains no high-fructose corn syrup usually contains at least as much total sugar as other similar products.
Do not assume that every salad, sandwich, soup, or muffin is a healthful choice. These items sometimes are excessively high in calories, fat, and sodium. You must do your research.
Snack foods, such as fruit chews, that are fortified with vitamins (most often vitamin C) are not worth the extra cost. A piece of fresh fruit always is the better choice.
Fruit juice is not truly equivalent to fresh whole fruit.
“All natural” means absolutely nothing. All-natural maple syrup and honey contain as many calories and as much sugar as table sugar.
Bottled iced tea does not contain the healthful antioxidants found in freshly brewed tea.
Sea salt contains as much sodium, ounce for ounce, as table salt.
For years, granola was thought of as a health food, but many granolas actually are high in fat and sugar.
Many yogurts are too high in sugar to make the calcium and probiotics worth it.
References and recommended readings
Helm J. Healthy food labels can lead astray: what’s good for you can cause you to do not-so-good things. Available at: http://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/nutrition-101/health-halo-healthy-food-labels-00412000068402/. Accessed June 6, 2012.
Helm J. The devilish effect of a ‘health halo.’ Available at:
http://nutritionunplugged.com/2010/04/the-devilish-effect-of-a-health-halo/. Accessed June 6, 2012.
Lee JW, Shimizu M, Wansink B. Health halo effect: don’t judge a food by its organic label. Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110410130831.htm. Accessed June 6, 2012.
Tierney J. Health halo can hide the calories. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/02/science/02tier.html. Accessed June 6, 2012.
Wansink B, Chandon P. Can “low-fat” nutrition labels lead to obesity? Journal of Marketing Research. [serial online]. 2006;43:605-617. Available at:
http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/pdf/permission/2006/LowFat-JMR_2006.pdf. Accessed June 6, 2012.
Contributed by Elaine Koontz, RD, LD/N
Review Date 6/12