WalkTalkNutrition skewers Health Halos


image by Brandon Dilbeck/Creative Commons

Health Halos.  Those innocent-sounding claims on food labels, designed to give the product a shiny nutritious image.  The claims aren’t false so much as misleading.

There are 3 categories of Health Halos:

  1. specific foods
  2. specific ingredients
  3. entire corporations

Entire corporations?  Consider Subway.  The healthy/low fat subs are heavily promoted, so the whole restaurant has a Health Halo, despite the fact that plenty of the subs (the majority) are not low calorie.

WTNreducedlogoHealth Halo food examples:

  • muffins: as Kathy notes, they’re basically like cake.
  • granola: high calorie and high fat
  • salads, especially entree salads at restaurants: frequently loaded with inexpensive filler ingredients like croutons or inexpensive cheese or low quality vegetables
  • yogurt: Kathy is especially annoyed by dessert yogurts, with toppings like sugary granola
  • oatmeal: plain is fine, but sweetened instant oatmeal not so much
  • sweet potato fries: key word — “fries”.

Health Halo ingredients or words:

  • Gluten-free: this does NOT define anything related to health
  • non-GMO: frequently used for foods that never were GMO to begin with. Creates a false image of a healthier product.
  • Organic: increasingly used as an excuse for junk food.  Organic Jelly Bellies?
  • “Wheat” bread — all bread is wheat bread.  It does not mean whole wheat.  Don’t be fooled.
  • Protein: a sprinkling of protein powder is a great way to sell sugary breakfast cereals or energy bars. From Kathy’s point of view, any food touted a high protein should have more protein than carbs, so check the label.
  • Another thing that drives us crazy: using fruit and vegetables to sell junk food.  Examples: the tiny amount of fruit added to fruit roll ups, so the label can say “contains real fruit!”.  Or vegetable powder added to chips, which are marketed as being equal to a serving of vegetables.  The explosion of veggie chip brands suggests that that ploy is working.  “Veggie” is a health halo word, but people really would rather eat chips.  Put the two together and you’ve got a winner from a sales point of view.  Not so much from a health perspective.
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