Healthy food, sugar free , gluten free and other health buzzwords are seen today in commercials and promotions on every corner.
They are used on food labels and packaging create health halos that can make consumers to believe that certain products are better options than others when, in fact, this isn’t always true.
Smart marketing tactics are unwittingly sabotaging our weight-loss efforts. This article exposes 8 healthy foods that in fact aren’t so healthy.
A 2014 study identified the health halo effect as a primary contributor to the inability of study subjects to lose weight in January, which is generally the time of year when most weight-loss efforts start.
The researchers tracked the groceries that 207 households bought between July and March to examine their shopping habits. From July to November researchers determined common shopping patterns, and then tracked to see how these changed in December and January.
Holiday period and calories
It’s no surprise the researchers discovered that food intake increased by 15% over baseline values throughout the holiday period. Food quality was also poorer, with 75% of extra expenditure accounted for by less healthy items.
Then, in January, the purchase of the so-called ‘healthy’ foods increased by 29.4% in comparison to baseline, and by 18.9% in comparison to the holiday period. What was interesting was that the purchase of less-healthy foods stayed at holiday levels, with the healthier options purchased over and above these unhealthy items.
More harm than good
This resulted in an increase in total calorie consumption over that period in the range of 450 calories per serving a week after the New Year compared to the holiday period, and a whopping 890 calories per serving a week in comparison to baseline levels. This means the problem is twofold. Firstly, consumers don’t reduce unhealthy options, opting to merely buy additional healthy options.
Nevertheless, due to the health halo effect, many of these so-called healthy foods also do more harm than good.
To help you prevent the pitfalls for making poor food choices in the name of healthy eating, here are 8 of the most common health halos that are inhibiting your weight-loss success.
‘Certified’ is the word you want to see included in any label that claims a product is organic.
But again, while these foods might be healthier, this term doesn’t mean that they include fewer calories than non-organic options, despite what a lot of people believe.
A case in point is participants in a 2013 study conducted at Cornell University who thought ‘organic’ foods were lower in fat and calories, but higher in fibre than ‘regular’ food. In other words, organic food is any product that’s grown on organically-certified land without any chemical treatments, either in the form of fertilisers or pesticides.
All substances placed in the ground or on plants have to come from a natural source and there can be no chemical additives. This is what gives this type of food its healthful properties.
A lot of processed or commercially produced convenience foods like cereal are often labelled as ‘high in fibre,’ but the majority of them don’t contain as much fibre as whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans and grains.
Therefore, these whole foods should remain your primary sources of fibre in any healthy, balanced diet.
The use of terms such as ‘high in fibre’ is also relative.
What exactly does ‘high’ mean? And in comparison to what is this product’s fibre content considered high? These are just clever marketing and food labelling practices that make consumers concentrate on one attribute of a product to help sway their purchase decision.
However, the people who make decisions based on these claims often fail to take into consideration the other ingredients present in the product.
Low fat is better
What a lot of consumers don’t consider is that sugar is used to add taste and flavour to fat-free and low-fat products since fat is what gives many natural foods their rich flavour.
This simply adds to our current general overconsumption of sugar and also affects our body’s insulin response and its sensitivity to this powerful hormone, meaning that these foods are often far worse for our waistline and health than full-fat products. Besides, many fat-free and low-fat products on the market contain just as many calories as their full-fat counterparts, if not more.
Full cream products have no suggar, well do they ? Before you swap that sweetened, low-fat yoghurt for that tub of full cream Greek yoghurt, read the label. The worst thing you can do is purchase a high-fat food product that still contains added sugar, much of which might be hidden.
For instance, a lot of full-cream dairy products contain fillers, stabilizers and emulsifiers.
Their substances are often starches, which means your high-fat food isn’t free from carbs or, at the very least some sugar. And this means a spike in insulin, along with an increase in your calorie intake (if you don’t control portion sizes).
Stabilisers used in food production
They can range from substances like xanthan gum, guar gum, or carageenan, to glycerol, sorbitol, corn starch and even glucose.
There’s currently no requirement to name the type of stabiliser used, but any sugar-based form should be included in the total sugar content in the food label, so consumers won’t consider the product sugar free .
It’s therefore a smart idea to read food labels carefully and if things don’t add up rather find a product that offers more details in the ingredients list.
Gluten intolerance and celiac disease, which causes inflammation in the small intestine of patients, have driven a need for gluten-free food options.
However, due to clever marketing and sales campaigns a lot of consumers perceive the term to also denote a ‘healthier’ option.
But this isn’t the case for people who don’t suffer from these maladies.
And, often, the people who believe they’re making healthier food choices often overeat at meal times – a fact that has been corroborated in several studies on the subject.
Gluten free doesen’t mean zero calories
Shoppers who select products that are gluten free also often underestimate the calorie content of those foods, believing they contain less calories than their gluten-containing variants. Therefore, they are more likely to eat these foods in excess.
However, simply removing this common protein allergen from products doesn’t do anything to reduce the calorie content of these foods.
In general, they are also lower in fibre than regular grain products as manufacturers often have to add extra starch, sugar and/or fat to make them edible.
They also don’t contain half as much iron and B vitamins as other grain products, and as a result you’ll be missing out on those essential nutrients as well.
‘Healthy’ drink alternatives
With the rise in popularity of low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) and paleo-style diets, coconut milk and coconut water and various nut-based and plant-based milk products have become popular in stores that sell a wide range health foods and drinks.
However, if you take the time to read the labels of these products you’ll see that many of them contain as much added sugar, if not more, than various fruit juices, especially the sweetened variants.
As such, fruit juices, sweetened coconut water or sweetened almond milk are no better for you than say a soda in terms of limiting your sugar intake.
When drinking these drinks you also get the added drawback of the increase in calories contained per 100ml from the fat content, which is a double whammy for your waistline because you’re spiking insulin while also delivering more liquid-derived energy.
Therefore, always look for the unsweetened option if you include these drinks in your diet.
There’s no doubt that whey is a beneficial form of protein – it’s very bioavailable and also versatile. Nevertheless, while it may be the gold standard in protein, it doesn’t have a midas touch.
For this reason, adding a scoop of whey to an otherwise unhealthy milkshake or smoothie doesn’t make it a healthier option.
Most smoothies and shakes contain plenty of sugar, meaning they’re also doing more harm than good. In addition, flavoured whey itself has added sugar from the flavouring systems used, which just adds to the total sugar content.
Any of these products with added whey simply become a sugar-laden, fat-storing disaster waiting to happen.
The cost of whey is also on the rise so you’ll be paying a lot for minimal benefit. It’s better to stick to store-bought whey and use water to mix with it.
In an effort to capitalize on the health halo effect many food manufacturers are also adding protein to a variety of products, including oats, cereals and ready mixes, to name a few, which allows them to slap on the ‘fortified food’ label.
While you’ll be getting extra protein and the associated benefits, you’re more likely to purchase a food that isn’t that beneficial or healthy for your waistline to start with thanks to the health halo effect the added protein creates.
It’s therefore a good idea to select only fortified foods that were considered healthy to begin with.
The banting diet
The more and more popular Banting diet has led to numerous shops and restaurants to pop up offering Banting-approved meals and food options.
However, their menu may not be dedicated to Banting-friendly eating, and anything you order that contains sugar and carbs such as juices, carbonated drinks, sweetened shakes, or even side orders that aren’t strictly Banting (the term is not regulated, after all) will also result in an insulin spike along with an increased calorie intake from the fat-laden meals, which is a bad combination.
It’s best to keep high fat foods and meals common in Banting diets far away from any form of carbs and sugar.
Also, if you decide to follow the Banting diet you have to commit and strictly adhere to the guidelines.
Failing to control insulin on a high-fat diet can have horrible consequences, both to your waistline and health.
So don’t let clever marketing and your susceptibility to unscrupulous labelling practices that want to capitalize on your well-intentioned efforts to lose weight derail you.
Become a conscious buyer and always carefully read labels when anything claims to be or even implies to be healthy. In doing so you’ll avoid the trap that so many in the westernized world find themselves in today, which is the overconsumption of sugar-derived calories and the underestimation of calories in foods that are often believed to be healthier options.
What these ‘healthy’ products do is increasing your waistline and the number on the scale, in line with the increased revenue of so-called ‘health food’ manufacturers.