The Health Halo Effect: The Definition, Examples, And Why It Makes Us Angry | Podcast Episode #12

We did a podcast about the health halo effect! Here is the audio and transcript:

Joané: (00:02)
Hey everyone. So, on today’s podcast, we’re going to be talking about the health halo effect.

Joané: (00:42)
What is the health halo effect? How are you going to describe it? It’s basically when people consider foods as healthy foods when they’re actually just sugar bombs or processed junk foods. Muesli bars, granola, and sweetened yoghurt come to mind.

Jonathan: (01:10)
I define the health halo as someone taking a product that’s not really necessarily healthy and highlighting something about it and rebranding it and repackaging it to make it seem healthy, putting it in a healthy light. So, you can take bread, for instance. And you can say it has extra fibre or whatever, you know, it’s still just bread, but now you’ve just put a spin on it. “Oh, it’s got extra fibre, that means it must be healthy.” You’ve put it in different packaging and called it low GI or whatever. And even though it’s still bread and it’s still processed food, it’s sort of made people think that it’s healthy, but it really is not.

Joané: (02:00)
Yeah. That’s the sad part. The health halo effect really upsets me because I always see people who are trying to be healthier. They’re trying to make better choices. They think: “Oh, I’m going to switch to a healthy diet.” And then they have these smoothie bowls that have eight fruits in them. And then they sprinkle some high-sugar muesli on top and they think that’s better for them than their Rice Krispies. That probably only has like three grams of sugar in it, or I don’t know how much, but a lot less sugar than the smoothie bowl, but they’ve been tricked into thinking that something is healthier. Like, you know, I see these bottled smoothies in the store all the time, and I see people buying them because they think they’re making a healthy choice. And I really think that manufacturers and companies are taking advantage of that, you know? “Oh, it has real fruit in it, that means it must be healthy.” Meanwhile, that fruit, that fruit juice, or that smoothie you’re buying has more sugar in it than a Coke or a doughnut.

Jonathan: (03:15)
Yeah, I definitely think one of the worst examples is the fruit juice, where they completely blend up I don’t know how many oranges or apples or whatever the juice is. And they say “with all-natural fruit”. The way they’re marketing it is actually kind of deceptive because it’s not actually telling you: “Oh, this is actually healthy for you.” They’re taking advantage of your assumption that a lot of fruit is going to be healthy. And it’s like, yes, the fruit is a lot healthier. If you just ate the orange or just ate the apple, but as soon as you put it in the juice form, it actually has a worse effect on your body and your liver compared to, like you said, a Coke. So, you know, most people sort of already know that Coke is nice and they like it, but they wouldn’t classify it as something that’s healthy. And that’s fine because at least Coke is not trying to deceive you into thinking that it’s this really healthy drink like with the orange juice. They’re trying to make you think that it’s healthy and that you can drink as much as you want of this. And that nothing’s going to happen to you when you can definitely develop fatty liver disease if you drink a ton of orange juice every day. So that’s the reality of the situation. That’s the actual problem with the wholesalers. It’s people taking advantage of what people perceive as healthy.

Joané: (04:36)
It’s the deception that upsets me as well. Like, I used to drink a lot of fruit juice as a kid because I became health conscious around 9, 10 years old. And I always tried to make a healthy choice, and I would choose fruit juice when we went to restaurants.

I thought that I was being healthy, and everyone else had soda. And you know, I felt so proud of myself, and it’s actually quite sad that, you know? I was feeling proud of myself, drinking fruit juice when I wanted Fanta Grape or something. Instead, I was doing just as much damage; it’s actually sad.

You can have somebody who’s really craving cake, and they’re saying: “no, no, no, I can’t have cake.” Or they have a very specific cake that they love and they’re not having it because they’re trying to be healthier, but they say: “Oh, but I can’t have cake but I really want to satisfy my sweet tooth. So, I’ll go and I’ll get this muesli bar, this fruit bar. And hopefully, that will satisfy my craving for cake.”

And then you’re getting just as much sugar as you would have in this slice of cake. Or if it’s like a granola bar, you’re getting the gluten in as well. And a lot of those muesli bars have trans fats in them as well. You think you’re doing the healthy thing. You’re not getting the thing you actually want, and it’s just as bad for you as the cake.

Jonathan: (06:10)
Yeah. Especially like if you go for a protein bar. When it comes to anything processed, really that you get in a wrapper, it is generally not going to be that healthy for you. They have maybe a few rare exceptions, but the fact that any kind of processed product will try and market itself as being good for you is actually kind of a joke. Because as soon as you actually process something so much, it’s really hard to give an example or any kind of research where someone’s been living off that for a long time and not have any negative health consequences.

Joané: (06:54)
For me, it is about making an informed decision. You know, I’ll buy a keto bar. I’ll buy packaged foods that are advertised as healthier alternatives. And they’ll have labels on them like “gluten-free”, “sugar-free”, you know, things like that. But I’m fully aware of what I’m eating. I don’t think that it is better than it is or, you know, something like that. Like if someone looks at a muesli bar and knows that they’re getting a lot of sugar from it, they’re getting all of these ingredients that aren’t the best for you, but they still want to eat it. That is fine. But the health halo effect is, you know, like you said, that deception of it is healthier.

Jonathan: (07:48)
And often, when you have the perception of it being healthier, you end up consuming more than you would.

Joané: (07:54)
Yes, I think, but this was (don’t quote me on this) about 12 years ago that I heard that people tend to eat like 25% more of something. If it just has some word on it, like “light”, “vegan”, or “gluten-free” or something like that, then people actually end up eating bigger portions because they think they can eat more. And I’ve seen that happen because I love making healthy desserts or, you know, low-carb desserts that are minimally processed.

And then, I’ll give them to people and people will just eat a lot of it. They work on portion control. Cause they’re like: “Ah, it’s sugar-free”. And then I think: “okay, but there’s a lot of fat in it”. Because often, when you do go low sugar, then the desserts end up having more fat. A lot of the desserts that I make are ketogenic, and they are actually like fat, and then people will eat 10 of them and they’re 200 calories each.

And then I think: “you just ate 2000 calories just there because you automatically assume that because it is lower in sugar, you can just eat a ton of it.”

Jonathan: (09:14)
Yeah. That is definitely a problem. And I think one of the worst health halo words you kind of mentioned there is the “lite”. The low-fat health halo is probably one of the worst health haloes because so many products have been flogged in supermarkets because they have the word “low-fat” on them. And it had nothing to do with how healthy it was or what the ingredients were. If they were whole foods or have no vegetable oils or trans fats in it, or whatever, that didn’t matter. It was just because it said “low fat” and it meant: “Oh, this must be healthier for me.” And that was a really bad move. Whoever decided to start that market campaign… yeah.

Joané: (10:00)
Cause when you remove fat from the foods, you often remove a lot of flavour. So, then they add sugar and other ingredients to them that are really bad for you. I have a really good health halo product for you. You might have some interesting opinions on this, these Beyond Meat burgers. If people are concerned and if people have the perception that, you know, a plant-based diet or a diet that doesn’t contain a lot of meat is better for you, well there is this plant-based burger. Okay, they only hear the word “plant-based” and they think: “Oh, this is a healthier alternative than the meat”. But isn’t there a lot of glyphosate in these plant-based Beyond Meat burgers?

And you’re getting a lot of it. It’s very processed and people forget that. So, it doesn’t make sense to me how people can logically think this thing that had to be made in a lab; all of these steps are involved is better for the human body than this animal that comes from nature, but whatever, that’s a different subject, but it’s the health halo effect. So, people don’t consider everything that goes into it. They only focus on the words “plant-based”.

Jonathan: (11:25)
I watched a video where they were showing you how to make these burgers, and they try to make it look as if there’s very little process that goes into it. But at one point in the video, they just added a whole bunch of powders and extracts, and I don’t know, whatever else they added to it.

They kind of just brushed over that part where they edit in a whole bunch of things that they almost like breezed over it, and they almost try to make it like: “Oh, you can make this at home in your own kitchen.” And I’m not saying that you can’t do that, but you know, I want to see the whole ingredients list. And if you just think about it, logically, animal cells are very different to plant cells. So, in order to get plants to taste like animals, you’re going to require a large process. And as soon as you have a lot of processing, it almost automatically makes things more problematic for your body. I mean, we can talk about soy and a lot of people will disagree on soy, but a lot of those burgers are mostly based on soy and other kinds of meaty-type plants

Joané: (12:49)
That have phytoestrogens/plant estrogens in them.

Jonathan: (12:56)
Yeah. And one of the things I saw in “Game Changers” are plant estrogens and the reference they gave actually didn’t really lead anywhere. Like I tried to find the reference on “Game Changers”, but it didn’t really go anywhere. And I’m not sure if they misspelt the reference or whatever, but they sort of cited this reference that says, you know, plant estrogens don’t interact with human ones and the reference they gave didn’t go anywhere. And then when I just did my own research and started looking at a whole bunch of other sources, they all say that part of the reason why plastics are so bad for you is cause they’re also a similar kind of process where they interact with the estrogen receptor. And so, it’s like, if you believe that plastics are bad for you, like if you have BPAs in your water, you don’t want that. Then, you also don’t want soy because it’s the same mechanism. So, you can’t be against BPA and think soy is fine because it’s all in the exact same recipient, exact same pathway. So, if you want to tell me that soy is perfectly fine for everyone to eat in large amounts, I’d probably want to see some extended, randomly controlled clinical trials of people eating a lot of soy-based products.

Joané: (14:16)
A lot of cleaning chemicals also have the same effect as soy, the same pathway in plastics. Well, yeah, it’s actually strange that all these vegans are drinking out of glass to not have this effect, but having a lot of soy. And I know someone who is vegan, who’s very conscious and she doesn’t have a lot of soy and she, she does well. It’s very sad when little kids get pumped full of soy, and it messes with their hormones.

Jonathan: (14:56)
I don’t think it’s good for boys, especially cause we are supposed to have very small amounts of estrogen. I think it’s obviously not good for anyone to mess with your hormonal system. But for guys, especially for boys, like you said, when they’re developing, it can actually result in some more feminine characteristics.

Joané: (15:21)
Yeah. Developmental problems perhaps? I don’t know. I haven’t done that much research, but I like the idea that, in writing, if you don’t know what to write about to ask: “what makes you angry?” And the health halo effect always comes to mind. Um, it’s just something that’s saved me for years. One interesting thing is, you have the Special K bars. A lot of people know the Kellogg’s bars and Slims Slabs. They’re a different brand. There’s Weigh-Less.

Jonathan: (16:01)
I know. I’m just saying it’s another example.

Joané: (16:03)
Yeah. There’s Weigh-Less, a South African company, but they have a lot of health halo products that are like high sugar, low fat. It’s not great. I like the community aspect of it. Like they have these group meetings, you get together, and you weigh in. It’s very like Weight Watchers (WW), but um, yeah, it’s quite a low-fat movement. I haven’t checked what the diet they recommend looks like for years, but it was very health halo. Yeah. So a lot of people buy these Special K bars because they think they’re healthier. But I have compared them to these Cocoa Pops bars, which are like these chocolaty rice crispy treat bars and the Special K bar had more sugar in it. Then the chocolate bar advert is aimed at kids. And I always think it’s hilarious.

Joané: (17:02)
These women who are eating the Special K bars are ignoring the chocolatey ones because they think they’re making a better choice or they want to buy real chocolate. And now they’re buying this Special K bar. You know how many times we went to the movies and I bought like an oats bar as a snack and put it in my handbag? And we took it into the movies. Cause I didn’t want to buy a chocolate or something. And I’m like, I could have just bought the chocolate, but that diet bar had more sugar in it. Then the candy bar is hilarious. Like most protein bars or candy bars.

Jonathan: (17:41)
Pretty much. Obviously, they come with a high dose of protein to lower the GI.

Joané: (17:46)
But isn’t that part of why? You know, the company Quest Nutrition started because they wanted to have a low-sugar protein bar. I’ve had them. They’re not too bad. I liked that they’re low in carbs, but some of the other brands… Like what? USN brought out a “Trust” bar. You remember? I remember we were in the store, and USN is quite a popular supplement company here in South Africa. And they have a lot of protein bars that have a lot of sugar in them. And then they brought out these “Trust” bars and you know, claiming like: “Oh, you can trust what goes in here. And it’s not that much sugar.” And then I think: but aren’t you dissing your other product now?

Jonathan: (18:29)
Technically, but I don’t like protein bars, in general, especially if they mass produce. Maybe if you make your own protein bars and you know all the ingredients that go into it and you don’t use too many processed ingredients, you can maybe get a protein bar that’s not so detrimental to your health. But in general, if you’re buying any kind of bar or thing from the shop, unless you’re getting it at a very specific brand that you know, or at least claims to use whole ingredients and only has like a list of five ingredients that they put into their bars, you’re probably not going to be getting the most healthy item to eat.

Joané: (19:15)
It depends. I know Pea protein does not agree with you, but pea protein powder for me is pretty clean. If it’s just pea protein powder. I know whey protein doesn’t agree with a lot of people. Um, it can be inflammatory, but I don’t think it’s too bad. I haven’t done too much research on it. It doesn’t agree with me.

Jonathan: (19:39)
Yeah. But there are hardly any bars out there that are just pea protein powder.

Joané: (19:46)
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no, no, no, no. I think collagen protein powder is also a good one.

Jonathan: (19:53)
Your protein can be a lot more simple because it might end up being just peas that were turned into a powder, which is a much more minimal process. Then, you can make an entire bar that has all these flavourings and sweeteners and stabilisers and emulsifiers and whatever, you know. Like you can get macadamia flour where they just took macadamias and crushed them down into a powder where like they didn’t have to add any other processes or things to it to make it that.

Joané: (20:26)
Yeah. You can do your research on the individual ingredients of a product and then make an informed decision and decide whether you are happy to eat it or not. Like I said, if you want to eat the doughnut or ice cream or the cake and you know, you’re not thinking that it’s a healthier option, I’m perfectly okay with it. Eat the cake, eat the doughnut if you want to do that. But I just don’t want people to think that they’re making a healthier choice when they’re actually just getting a lot of sugar and trans fats and gluten and crap.

Jonathan: (21:05)
Yeah. You just want people to know the reality of the situation.

Joané: (21:10)
Yes. I’m pro-choice when it comes to diet.

Jonathan: (21:13)
Yeah. So it’s not saying like: “Oh, you eating a doughnut is wrong and no one should do it.” It’s more just like: you should know that doing that on a regular basis is going to have consequences to your health. Um, not that you can never eat doughnuts. It’s just saying that if you do it on a regular basis, it’s probably going to come with some sort of issue down the line.

Joané: (21:41)
And we’re not saying you can’t have a muesli bar, a granola bar, or sweetened yoghurt or smoothie. But if I would have a muesli bar, I’d see it the same way as having chocolate. Don’t think you’re making a healthier option or making a healthier choice necessarily.

Jonathan: (22:03)
Obviously, you got very different scenarios and it might individually be healthier compared to the option you were going to take. But then if you eat twice as much of it, then you’re kind of back to scratch if you do that. And then also, it’s just because it has a healthy word and a very natural-looking wrapper or whatever it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a super healthy food and that you can have as much as you want of it. And there are no consequences coming for you down the line. And that’s the real problem. It is that these companies are taking advantage of the fact that you think: “Oh, you know, if I have this, I’m going to be fine.” And then you’re not fine because you ate a crapload of it and ended up giving you insulin resistance or something. That’s my issue with it.

Joané: (22:54)
Yeah. Don’t before by the health halo effect, educate yourself and make some informed decisions.

Jonathan: (23:01)
Yeah. It was really easy. Just turn it around, look at the back, and read the ingredients list out loud. So, someone said to me something like: “Oh, I’ve got this thing that’s gluten-free or whatever.” So, they’ve told me one thing. So, they got this product that’s gluten-free. So, because it says “gluten-free”, they automatically assumed that the whole thing is good. So, I turned around and I read the ingredients list. Some of those things were difficult to pronounce. The ingredients were very complicated in the long list of things that also didn’t really sound good if you read it out loud. And then suddenly, they’re just like: “Oh, but I thought it was healthy.” You know, it’s like you just read on the front cover where it said gluten-free and you didn’t actually read the back where it tells you everything that’s actually in it.

Joané: (23:53)
That happened the other day where somebody said that something was healthy and they were very excited about it. I felt bad. You mean you turned it around and started reading the ingredients and you could just see their face drop.

Jonathan: (24:07)
But I was just like, why do people not care about what goes into the products they bought? They’re just like: “Oh, I don’t care what’s in this. I like it.” I don’t understand that. It’s hard for me to understand. I’m like, you don’t care what you put in your body?

Joané: (24:23)
Yeah. So, it’s almost Easter at the time of recording this. And I was in the store and they had these sugar-free Easter eggs. So, beautiful and in a gold wrapper. My inner child became very excited, and you know, I considered buying it. It’s sugar-free chocolate and I obviously turned it around and I did the responsible thing and it had soy in it. I can’t tolerate soy. It had soy and it had hydrogenated vegetable oil. It had at least like three or four things that I do not want to put in my body. And I was so disappointed. I did end up finding like a dark chocolate Easter egg somewhere that was okay that I approved of. But this one, in particular, was just so disappointing and I thought most people will see “no sugar” and just buy it and not turn it around, because now this is a healthy Easter egg, because it doesn’t have sugar in it.

Jonathan: (25:37)
And they wouldn’t just buy it. They’d buy six. Cause they’d be like: “Oh, sugar-free. Awesome, I can have more.”

Joané: (25:42)
Nah, it’s expensive. You have to be rich. Well, if I were rich, if I had a lot of money, I would have bought six. If I approved of it or if I had fallen for it, I would have bought six and eaten three in the car on the way home. I don’t know. But yeah.

Jonathan: (26:03)
So, we just want to try and enlighten people to try not to get fooled by these. You know, don’t just go on what the cover says because the cover is always going to try and just draw your attention and make you think a certain way. Yeah.

Joané: (26:22)
And, for example, when we went to Amsterdam last year, we found these gluten-free stroopwafels and stroopwafels were one of my favourite parts of the trip. I absolutely loved them. And yes, we were fully aware. This was not really a healthy food. It was very processed, but at least it was gluten-free and we were on holiday and we made the decision to still eat it. I don’t think you would eat it again if we went again, but you could still have it, but just don’t be fooled by it and think that it’s healthy.

Jonathan: (27:05)
Yeah. I feel like every situation comes with its own decision making. Like for me, in that situation, if I had to have the normal stroopwafels with all the gluten and knew that it was going to make me feel crappy, because I know when I get gluten, like even if it’s by accident, I notice like: “Oh, I feel like crap.” And I’m on holiday. I don’t want to feel like crap but sugar, even though I don’t want to be consuming a large amount of it, is not going to make me feel like crap. No. So those stroopwafels basically use the substitute flour. So, I didn’t have gluten. And then they were basically just sugar and I think they were made with almond flour. I can’t remember. Almonds aren’t the best for me digestively, but that’s a small amount. I don’t think it will have a major impact. And it’s not like it’s full of gluten. And so, it won’t make me feel that crappy. And so, then you say: “Okay, cool. You know, if I’m on a holiday, this is the time to do it.” It’s not like I’m going to eat gluten-free stroopwafels every day for the rest of my life. Like, I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Joané: (28:29)
It sounds like a good idea.

Jonathan: (28:33)
I don’t think health-wise, it’s a good idea. Like maybe you might get a lot of enjoyment out of it, but I’m not sure that you’re going to have a very promising health outcome if you’re eating that many stroopwafels.

Joané: (28:46)
And you might be broke. I don’t know. Okay, we hope you enjoyed this podcast about the health halo effect.

Jonathan: (28:57)
Yeah. And don’t, don’t be fooled.

Joané: (29:00)
Educate yourself. Educate yourself.

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