Do you ever find yourself having trouble deciding what is considered "healthy?" When making the tough choices about healthy or not, you are not alone and the confusion may not even be your fault!
We tend to categorize items as "healthy" or "unhealthy" which allows us to make quicker decisions when it comes to our food and beverage choices. I mean, who really wants to take the time to read a label at the store or the nutrition information at a restaurant, right?! It's easy to say to ourselves, "Any way that we can make healthy decisions quicker, the better."
Health Halos may be one of the culprits that gets us into the habit of categorizing "healthy" and "unhealthy" items. A health halo is considered the act of overestimating the healthfulness of an item based on a single claim*. So what does that mean? Let's break health halos down into three groups that may sound more familiar to you.
1. Restaurant Chain Health Halos
Here is a possible scenario--It's lunch time! You didn't have time to pack a lunch for yourself so you plan to grab something quick and healthy instead. Our health halo conscience tells us "Avoid Fast food at all costs!" Therefore, you may choose to go to a sandwich place instead. It's quick and healthy, right?! Possibly, but did you take the time to look at the nutrition information and compare? If not, you may be consuming as much OR MORE calories than at the fast food restaurant you avoided.
2. Label Buzzwords
Fat Free! Organic! Gluten-Free! Sugar Free! Cholesterol Free!
These are just a few of the many healthy buzzwords that can be found on packaging. Most of these are placed there purposely to catch our eye so that we make quick purchasing decisions. You will know exactly what I mean if you take a trip down the cereal aisle. For example, if a label says that an item is "Fat Free," that doesn't mean it contains less sugar or calories than the regular version of the product. Take a little extra time to compare nutrition labels and ingredient lists to avoid split-second health halo decisions.
3. A Food or Drink Category
In general, we sometimes find ourselves putting a certain food or beverage into the "healthy" category. One example that comes to mind would be yogurt. All yogurt is healthy, right? Not exactly! Yogurt is typically categorized as a healthy snack option, but when you look at the labels, some yogurts have as much sugar as a Twinkie! Yogurt can still be a good snack option, so make sure you check the nutrition label before purchasing!
Now that we've categorized Health Halos... what are some tips for avoiding them? Glad you asked!
1. Plan ahead. When going out to eat, look up the nutritional information of what you are planning to have before you go, or ask for the information when you get there. See if the item fits with your nutritional goals. Try to meal plan or pack your own food for lunches, if possible.
2. Take your time! Slow down to avoid split second decisions based on your preconceived notions about them.
3. READ the labels. This goes along with taking your time. Read the labels and their ingredient lists to help yourself make an informed decision.
*Health Halo definition cited from The Guardian