Ever heard of the “health halo”? This week, we break down the idea that a food is healthy just because a single claim of healthfulness can be made about it. Are those cookies healthy because they’re made with organic sweet potato? Maybe — but maybe not. It depends on a lot more than the sweet potato.
Dietician Katie Morford of Mom’s Kitchen Handbook helps us think through issues like how to quickly read food packages, determine if pricey supplements are worth it, and figure out if hiding veggies and other nutrient dense foods is valuable as we try to figure out which foods live up to the labels they’re given. Not to determine if they’re “good” or “bad,” but to figure out their rightful place in our families’ diets — and in our grocery budgets too!
What is the Health Halo, and why Does it Matter?
According to an article in the Gaurdian, the health halo is the effect that “…refers to the act of overestimating the healthfulness of an item based on a single claim, such as being low in calories or low in fat.” There are many (many!) other terms implicated by the health halo effect including heart healthy, organic, and whole grain.
The issue with these terms — or their health halo impact —is that when consumers overestimate how good a food is for them, they tend to be willing to:
overspend on it
overeat it, and
miscalculate the food’s impact on their health
For example, the same Gaurdian article shared that, “US researchers report that consumers frequently confuse ‘low fat’ with ‘low calorie’, resulting in the overconsumption of certain foods.” Oops.
So while we’re BIG on avoiding labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” we also believe that consumers — especially parents, who are responsible for making food decisions for others — need to have an accurate understanding of what they’re eating and its nutritional value. That way, they can make clear decisions about where it fits in their family’s diet and in their grocery budget too.
The Big Three Questions
When we first learned about the health halo, three big questions came to mind, especially in light of last week’s episode on how to save money on groceries:
How do we get smarter about reading labels so that we don’t overspend on whole grain, organic, natural, snack foods with veggies added, etc when it doesn’t really make a difference?
Are more expensive foods and supplements like organic produce, organic dairy, grass fed meat, chia seeds, hemp, bee pollen, etc. really worth the extra cash?
When cooking at home, is hiding vegetables and making recipes like black bean brownies, for example, just perpetuating the health halo effect (and wasting our time), or worth the effort?
A few important things that came up in our conversation:
The Dirty Dozen list
The Clean Fifteen list
The guide to the healthiest shortcuts in the supermarket in Stacie’s first cookbook, Make It Easy: 120 Mix-and-Match Recipes to Cook from Scratch—with Smart Store-Bought Shortcuts When You Need Them
Our conversation about hiding vegetables in episode 10 with Amy Palanjian of Yummy Toddler Food
Listen now to hear our entire conversation, and also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram (we’re @didntijustfeed you on both) where we’ll be asking you guys about how you avoid falling prey to the health halo — if you even think it’s a thing in the first place.
Our Guardian Angel
While we’re always happy to share our research, culinary expertise, and real-life mom experience, it only seemed right to have a dietician weigh in on a few of these matters, and our friend Katie Morford of Mom’s Kitchen Handbook was the obvious choice. Not only does she love food, but she’s also passionate about empowering kids to develop a healthy, balanced, independent relationship with food and cooking.
Listen to this week’s episode for Katie’s tips on how to quickly asses a food label — and you don’t have to be a food scientist to understand what she says. Hallelujah!
As for her take on whether recipes that sneak in vegetables or other nutrient-dense foods are actually more nutritious, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. But it’s also far from complicated. You’ll want to listen for her very practical, very easy-to-understand answer.
In the Meantime, Some Great Resources from Her Site:
Our Health Halo Recipes
If/when kids aren’t into vegetables, using purees to serve them in a different form can help. You can use the purees to high them, if that’s your thing, or just make soup! This Vegetarian Tortilla Soup is made with sweet potato puree and Stacie’s kids (even the one who doesn’t like cauliflower) love this Cauliflower Soup with Bacon and Blue Cheese
You can also use veggie purees in sauces like in this Avocado Yogurt Sauce
Meghan also loves adding veggies like pureed spinach or beets to pancake mix. She often makes green or pink pancakes.
And she often adds spinach and chia to smoothies.