Imagine that you are in the grocery store and you see a package of crackers that are labeled “low fat” sitting right beside another package with no similar claim. Which one would you choose? According to a number of studies, the low fat crackers would likely be your choice. And when you get these “healthy” crackers home, other studies say that you are likely to eat more of them than you would the ones without a claim. Low fat is one of the “health halos’ that has been studied showing how we can fall into traps when we either misinterpret a health claim or give healthy properties to foods that aren’t really so.
There are lots of health halos, properties that are influenced by a label claim, by packaging information or even just the name of a product. Other words that may be misinterpreted include “natural”, “organic” or “contains real fruit”. The assumption, when you see these words, is that the food is automatically healthier and this may often not be true.
For example, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency restricts the use of the word “natural” to foods that have not been significantly altered by processing. Does this mean it’s healthier? Not necessarily. Nutrient claims such as low in sodium or calorie reduced are defined and regulated by Health Canada. But, you may need to read beyond the claim and know more about the product before you decide that it’s a healthy one.
A few tips:
- Don’t be seduced by a fancy label and a big claim splashed across the front.
- Read the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts box. Compare the product to one that is similar but without a claim and see if there is a difference. Pay attention to the calories, serving size and other nutrients that are important to you.
- Read past a claim such as “contains real fruit” and see what else is in the product and how much “real fruit” you’ll be eating. If it says “made with whole grains”. check the ingredient list to see what those grains are and where they are on the ingredient list.
- When you buy low fat foods, see if they are really lower in calories or healthier in any way. Many low fat foods are higher in sugar and still not low calorie.