Clever marketing and cognitive miser are leading us to develop shopping habits which aren’t as healthy as we think they are. This article breaks down what health halos are, common examples of them, and steps to take to determine if a food is actually healthy or not.


No one would argue with the fact that kale is great for us, but when it comes to crackers, pasta, dips or any other product made with kale the line between good for us and good marketing becomes blurred. The confusion between the idea of “healthier” and “healthy” leads to purchasing and eating habits which may not be as good for us as we perceive them to be.

The Health Halo Effect: What is it?

The health halo effect is the phenomenon where consumers perceive foods which have some nutritional benefits to be healthier than they actually are.

The Health Halo Effect: How Does it Affect our Eating Choices?

When health-oriented consumers perceive a certain food to be healthy or healthier, many are willing to spend more on it. Marketers exploit this trend by advertising their foods using terms often associated with healthfulness, including “fresh”, “natural”, “wholesome”, “nutrient-rich”, and “superfood”. While these foods may or may not have certain health benefits, their level of healthfulness can be exaggerated in the minds of consumers.

We may be unknowingly eating foods with little or no nutritional quality because of this clever marketing. Increasing the nutrition knowledge of the public is paramount in helping us ultimately make more informed decisions about the foods we eat.

How Can the Health Halo Negatively Affect our Health?

Cognitive miser is the theory that we as humans try to preserve thinking energy by taking mental shortcuts when making decisions. Choosing to eat products which advertise one specific healthy ingredient or quality tends to perpetuate the idea that we are engaging in healthier habits than we truly are. So it’s understandable how this can pose a problem for our overall health.

Common Health Halos

“Superfoods”

An unregulated term.

Organic Foods

There is no consistent evidence that consuming organic plant foods over conventionally grown plant foods provides extra nutritional benefit.

Veggies Sticks

These are chips people.

Cereals

Lots of clever claims and friendly packaging, on a processed food.

Flavoured Yogurts

High in added sugar.

Oatmeal Cookies

Hello, it’s in the name.

Iced Tea

High in added sugar.

Smoothies

Can be as much or more calories than a full meal.

Protein Bars

High in calories and ultimately is a processed food.

Coconut anything

Just calm down about coconut people.

Gluten Free Products

This has been debunked by some many other writers. Check any dietitian’s blog and see.

Paleo/Keto junk food

Marketing.

GMO Free Food

Marketing.

Thin Crust Pizza

The low carb trend does us in again.

“Naturally Sweetened”  

Honey, maple syrup and agave are all still added sugar.

The Bottom Line:

Health halos arise as a result of clever marketing and our unintentional assumptions about the nutritional quality of a food or product. This can mean that our diet quality isn’t as solid as we perceive it to be.

Thank you kindly for reading part 1. In part 2 we will explore how to educate yourself to see through health halos. Special thanks to RD2be Nawal Omran for contributing to this article.

Can you think of how marketing has persuaded you to purchase a food product before?

Are there any terms which you see on food products which creates a health halo?