Beware of the Health Halo Effect

Beware of the Health Halo Effect

 I simply cannot get over the author of The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholtz’s analogy of your stored fat being like granola bars that are strapped around your stomach, readily available for your body to eat. [1] Damn do I love granola bars. My belly fat is probably like 20% granola bar from all the ones I ate in my past anyway. I used to fall for the health halo effect.

 They say that when you struggle to decide what to write about, you should ask yourself: “What makes me angry?” Well, there are few things that make me as angry as the health halo effect.

What Is the Health Halo Effect?

 The health halo effect happens when people take foods that are essentially unhealthy and make people believe that they are good for you. This may not be intentional, and the producer actually believes that the product is healthy, which is unfortunate for all parties involved.

These foods are considered as healthy foods but contain a lot of sugar and processed ingredients. They might contain one beneficial ingredient (out of 100 bad ones), which the manufacturers will highlight.

You will recognise many of these foods by their labels, such as lite, fat-free, high in fibre, low calorie, vegan, contains real fruit, natural ingredients, etc. I am not against vegan-labelled products, and often buy them because I try to keep my dairy intake low, but many of them are quite high in sugar and might contain other strange ingredients, which manufacturers believe are required to make plant-based products taste good.

Why “Low-Fat” Should Be a Warning Sign on Labels

Products that are labelled as low-fat really strike a nerve with me. However, this has only been in the last five or six years since I have embraced more fat in my diet and followed a low-sugar diet. The thing to note is that when they remove fat from food, they typically add sugar to improve the taste.

So-Called “Healthy Sugars”

When I was younger, I feasted on bowls filled with bran cereals, muesli, milk, sweetened yoghurt, dried fruit, etc. I skipped the chocolate when we went to the movies and chose sugary, yet low-fat granola bars instead. I drank litres and litres of sugary fruit juice thinking I was making a healthier choice, made myself smoothies that contained at least three servings of fruit and added more sweetened yoghurt, and I also ate a lot of dried fruit as well.

I remember buying a big bag (and I mean a big, 500 g or roughly 1 lbs bag) of dried fruit and eating it on the way to work when I was a waitress while still at university. It was also around the time when I would also do things like eat ten bananas in one day, drink sparkling grape juice as if I was trying to make it my new blood type, and thought sucrose-free meant sugar-free.

Mistakes were made, and while I thought I was living a mostly sugar-free lifestyle just because I wasn’t eating obvious sugars like candy or cakes, I was actually still consuming a lot of sugar. I fell for the health halo effect a lot, which I feel a little embarrassed by because, at the time, I thought I had basically learned everything I needed to know about health. Now I realise I knew nothing.

Learn to Read Food Labels

I have learnt that one should have an open mind and that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in magazines or online.

If you take a minute or two to read the label and see what the ingredients are in the foods you eat, you will be surprised to see how many of the so-called healthy options you turn to are full of inflammatory ingredients, which contribute to fat gain and other health-related problems.

There will probably be quite a few ingredients that you might not be able to pronounce or that look like they definitely do not classify as food.

And if you look at products like low-fat yoghurt, cereal bars, high-fibre cereal, low-fat milk, and protein bars, you will see that they usually have quite a bit of added sugar. Even though they are seen as healthy alternatives, they can contain just as much, if not more, sugar than regular candy bars and candy.

Just Be Aware of What You’re Eating

I hate seeing people rely on these foods, as I know they are trying to be healthy, but actually end up damaging their health instead. Become aware of what is actually in the foods you are eating. You can still eat them if you really want to, but at least make an informed decision.

Are there some foods that you believe are healthy that you might need to re-examine? Have you fallen victim to the health halo effect?

Your health could radically improve if you reduce your consumption of so-called healthy foods.

The good news is that once the glass has shattered and you start seeing foods the way they truly are, you can make informed decisions and decide if they are worth eating or not. It is not the foods themselves that frustrate me, it is the way they are promoted to us and the perception that is created around them.

If you want to eat a doughnut, fully aware that you will be consuming gluten, sugar, and trans fats all combined into a delicious ring of joy, but simply do not care how it affects you because you want the doughnut anyway, I do not care.

If you choose to eat a bowl of sugary granola, fruit, and sweetened yoghurt and then also have smoothies and juices that are loaded with sugar, but you do not care about how much sugar it contains, that is okay. You can make your own decisions when it comes to what you eat, but just know what you are eating, and understand what the effects of eating the food might be, so that you cannot be tricked by the health halo effect.

It’s the false illusion that the health halo creates that leaves me currently needing to take a break from writing to take a walk because I am a little too fired up after writing this and need to calm down.


[1] Rogan, J. and Teicholz, N. (2017). Joe Rogan Experience #1058 – Nina Teicholz.

Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_kEmYTiHtc [Accessed 6 Oct. 2019].