Beware of the food Halloween halo.

November 9, 2016

We all know that eating & drinking is as much if not more psychological than physical.   The other day I came across the "health halo effect".  We're getting duped.  We've come to believe that if a food or drink has one healthy trait, it's a healthy food.  We see gluten free, sugar free, fat free, natural, organic, local, etc.  & we assume it's healthy.  However an organic doughnut is still a doughnut.  It contains all of the calories, fat, sugar & let's not forget deliciousness that we demand of any doughnut.  In fact if it "looks like a duck, quacks like a duck & swims like a duck, it's a duck".  Food companies "put lipstick on a pig" & we don't always see the pig through the smokescreen.

 

to be or not to be organic

 

Everywhere we look we see "organic" foods.  Organic refers to how food is produced. Organic farmers can't use synthetic pesticides, GMO's & petroleum based fertilizers.  A lot of people like organic fruits & vegetables.  As soon as you process or refine organically grown ingredients, it's no better than buying non organic foods.  You have to look at the food label.  For example it's not that important whether a cereal is organic or non-organic.  If the label shows lots of (unhealthy) ingredients, avoid these refined foods.  

 

Bang for your calorie.  Bang for your buck.

 

Cornell's Food & Brand Lab conducted a very interesting experiment.  The participants evaluated 2 yogurts, 2 cookies & 2 potato chips.  They tested perceived calories, taste & cost.  One yogurt was labeled "organic".  The other yogurt was labeled "regular".  One cookie was labeled "organic".  The other cookie was labeled "regular".  Finally one potato chip was labeled "organic".  The other potato was labeled "regular".  Here's the rub.  All of the food pairs were identical & organic.  Participants estimated that organic foods had significantly less calories than regular foods.  Participants liked the taste of organic yogurt & potato chips.  Regular cookies won the taste war.  Finally participants were willing to pay 23.4% more for organic foods.

 

What is "natural" food?

 

"Natural" use to be the health halo gold standard.  The natural food industry generates $40,000,000,000 annually.  Believe it or not the FDA doesn't have much (if any) of a definition for "natural". Many people believe that natural trumps organic.  Consumer Reports found that natural foods often contain toxic fertilizers & pesticides not to mention GMO's.  Food companies add chemicals, sweeteners & other artificial ingredients to "natural" foods.

 

You also want to be a savvy consumer if you're thinking about buying "local" foods. Much like natural foods the FDA doesn't have a single definition for local foods.   How far does your food travel before it lands in your supermarket?  You don't know if the food traveled 100 miles or 500 miles sometimes.  What ingredients are in local foods?  You don't always know because small businesses don't have to attach food labels to their products.

 

Never mix charities & taste.

 

In one experiment researchers conducted a taste test.  Half the participants were told that the food came from a company that donates 10% of its profits to charities.  The other half of the group received no information.  It turns out that the 10% for charity group found that the food tasted 15% better than the other group. Finally researchers have found if you bring your own bags to the supermarket, you're more likely to buy organic foods. You're also more likely to buy snacks & desserts.  When you feel you're doing something good for the planet, you drop your defenses & indulge.  

 

I'm not saying that you shouldn't buy gluten free, organic, natural & local foods.  I think all of them can work.  Just look beyond the marketing & focus on the food label.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

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