The Halo Effect: Plus 3 Ways It Might Be Affecting Your Nutrition

By September 20, 2019 No Comments
Have you heard of something called, “The Halo Effect”?

Not Halo Top. Although maybe seeing “Halo” in the title got you excited to keep reading so now you’re here and we have nothing to say about Halo Top Ice Cream. Sorry, not sorry. But while you’re here, pull up a chair and stay for awhile.

“The existence of the so-called ‘Halo Effect’ has long been recognized by psychologists and marketers alike. It is the cognitive bias whereby one evaluates an individual, or product in a favorable manner because of a shared belief. In other words, we might interpret information about someone or something because of a positive association. We mistakenly assume that because someone or something is categorized as good, everything about them is good, or the reverse—because they are bad at one thing, everything about them or the product is bad.”

This Halo Effect has been used by the food industry for years.

Marketers of processed foods hit us with claims like “made with whole grain”, ”heart-healthy”, “all-natural”, and “organic”. Not just that, they will often boast of the endorsement of a respected organization.Because of this we often automatically assume that the product promotes health, wellness, and even weight loss. The “halo effect” assumes just because a product comes with a certain claim, comes from a certain store, or is endorsed by an organization we respect or believe in, that product will further our goals. This is false.

Here’s 3 ways the Halo Effect has been used in food marketing that might surprise you!

1.”Made with Whole Grains”

This little bugger can usually found on the top of your favorite cereal box, bread, or packaged baked goods. But it doesn’t mean there’s ONLY whole grain in the product and it definitely doesn’t mean it’s chemical or preservative-free. It just means you will get some whole grains. It makes it seem like you can’t get your whole grains anywhere else, so you NEED to get them from this product. Luckily, whole grains can be found in foods like couscous, quinoa, rice, oatmeal, cornmeal, and others. Don’t get suckered into buying a chemical-filled product out of fear that you’re “not getting enough whole grains.” Have some oatmeal tomorrow if you’re worried.

2.”All-Natural” and “Organic”

The word “natural” seems to be interpreted a lot of ways. Some marketing leads us to believe that “natural” means the same as “organic”. Pictures of farms, gardens, old fashioned farmers and cute cows serve as the backdrop to a bright little starburst in the corner saying “All natural!” It makes you think “organic,” but it’s not. Marketers love this because they get all the benefits of looking “organic” without all the hoops they have to jump through to be “organic.” High fructose corn syrup can be considered “natural.” So basically, natural doesn’t mean much. Now when we talk about “organic”, let me be clear: I’m not talking about organic fruits and veggies. I’m talking about processed foods that carry the “organic” labeling. All the labeling means is that it was, at the very least, made with at least 70% organic products. Organic junk food exists. Organic food with empty calories…exists. Organic is not a free pass for “healthy.” They make organic gummie bears. They’re still gummie bears, just full of mostly organic sugar.

3.”Endorsed by…”

You see this a lot at restaurants or even with meal prep companies. They’ll have a “[insert organization] approved menu” full of items that meet certain qualifications – things like, “low carb, or low fat”, “ Whole 30 approved”, “Paleo, Keto, or Macro friendly”. But, what about the rest? How much sugar or sodium is there? Are the ingredients quality? Just because something is trending, doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. If you are eating Keto or Whole 30, you need to know why and it shouldn’t just be when you go out or it says so on the box. If a product is endorsed by the American Heart Association, is it really better for ME?

It all depends on your goals and understanding your “why”. That, my friends, is the key to making healthy long term food choices.

The truth is that health halos and all of their promises, act as green lights for a lot of people who are apprehensive about certain foods or trying to make a healthy change but don’t know where to start. They give us a seemingly valid reason to bypass our doubts and dive in. Those of us who don’t normally eat cereals might be more convinced to buy one because “I can get in my whole grains!”

Make decisions based on YOUR goals. Stay true to you. Embrace the learning process. Try not to get sucked into the vortex of Halo Effect of claims and let pretty packaging or nice phrasing get in the way of helping you create the best and healthiest you.



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