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Are the Health Foods You’re Buying as Healthy as They Say?

Brands may be using a marketing strategy known as a “health halo” to fool you into thinking that the foods you are buying are more healthful than they really are.

"The health halo effect is an phenomenon in which a food or food company is perceived as healthy based on one claim," Natalie Allen, clinical faculty member of the Biomedical Sciences Department at Missouri State University and team dietician for the university's athletic teams, tells Mic via email.

When you buy a brand of chips that are marketed as being baked or low-fat rather than a standard bag of Lay’s, the health halo is in full effect. Basically, it means that one term or key word is used to make a choice that is unhealthy. The health halo can also be seen on restaurant menus and any time food is sold.

To avoid the health halo that convinces you that a whole wheat version of a sugar cereal is a better breakfast than a whole egg, remember to look at foods as a whole. Terms to watch out for include “lite,” “local,” “organic” or “natural.” These terms aren’t regulated by any kind of health board and don’t say anything about the calories or other contents of a product.

For example, “low-fat” is often a popular selling point, but when fat is removed, the flavor that is lost is often replaced with additional salt and sugar. And some foods, like crackers or pretzels may be naturally low in fat content but don’t contain actual nutritional value so that they still fall under the health halo.

And sometimes you may not know how a product is made, like “whole wheat” bread. Due to the processing of the wheat, the nutrition content is lost. Store-bought bread also includes more ingredients than bread that is made at home, many of which are unhealthful.

To avoid the health halo, read labels closely and follow your own judgement.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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