Yesterday, whilst doing the weekly at Sainsbury’s, something dawned on me whilst perusing the extensive array of yoghurts on offer down the ‘Dairy Aisle’. That is the simple fact that preceeding any product name with the word ‘Organic’ is a sure-fire way to add an extra £3 onto the price-tag…
‘The word ‘Organic’ is one of many adjectives used to in marketing of food and drink products that supposedly increases the percieved ‘healthiness’ of its contents. It seems ridiculous, but one single word can turn a bog-standard pot of yoghurt into the ultimate elixir for any and every ailment known to man.
The problem with this deceptive marketing, coupled with the widespread perception of certain foods/food groups being ‘healthier’ than others, is that people tend to forget that (even though these foods may indeed pose significant health benefits) they still contain calories. Sometimes even more than their supposedly ‘unhealthier’ counterparts…
Healthy ≠ Calorie Free
As previously discussed, the positive perception of certain foods causes people to forget their caloric content, and lead to eating habits that involve overconsuming said food to the point at which the cons outweigh the pros…
For example, if you are trying to lose weight, the most important thing you need to consider is your energy balance; i.e. making sure that you consume fewer calories than you expend, thus putting you in a calorie deficit. By overconsuming one particular food, however healthy it may be, you could very easily cancel out the deficit you have created from making positive changes to your diet. In some cases, you could even put yourself into a calorie surplus which will set you in the complete opposite direction to your overall goal.
Nuts are a prime example, which are often used as a healthy snack alternative to more highly processed foods such as crisps and chocolate. Now, although plain nuts are packed with nutrients and healthy fats, they are incredible calorie-dense (meaning that there is a large amount of energy in a small physical volume of a food).
Although, say, pistachios have more nutritional benefits than a pack of Malteasers, a serving size of the former is a small handful. And, if you are prone to snacking, one handful can easily turn into 4 or 5 which on its own could put you into a pretty sizeable calorie surplus…
Overconsumption May Lead to Deficiencies
The second big problem with overconsumption of these so-called ‘Health-Halo’s’ is that, as with any other food, it may lead to both micro- and macro-nutrient deficiencies.
What does this mean, you ask? Well, hypothetically, let’s say you read an article on the internet that spent 3000 words praising the life-changing effects that eating green detox shakes with avocado, spinach, and a whole host of other ingredients that would make the likes of Davina McCall shit the bed. As these shakes are said to be so beneficial to your health, you decide to replace 2/3 main meals of the day with these shakes in order to optimise your physical wellbeing (**cough**cough**Herbalife**cough).
This ‘replacement‘ dietary approach, whereby a single type of food or drink comes into the place of whole meals, will create nutrient deficiences that may cause unwanted symptoms, such as loss of hair, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. In the aforementioned example, it would be almost certain that the person’s diet would be signficantly lacking in lean proteins and healthy fats (macronutrient deficiencies), whilst also lacking in vital micronutrients such as Vitamin B12.
Nothing is Free Of Calories
Thanks to the incredibly wonderful phenomenon that is Weight Watchers, alongside various other pieces of absolute tripe over the internet, there has been a growing school of thought in our culture that assigns different food stuffs ‘points‘ based on their caloric content and overall nutritional value.
As some foods are given 0 points on these ridiculous scales, there is a widespread perception that certain foods are ‘calorie-free’, meaning that you can supposedly eat as much of said foods as you like and not gain a gram of fat.
I hate to break it to you, but everything you put into your mouth (excluding water!) will have calories. Yes, even cucumber, celery, and even broccoli! If you were somehow able to neck 10kg of Broccoli down (which, granted, would be an freakish feat of human endeavour…), you would have nailed 3,400kcal in the bag; enough to put most people in a large calorie surplus.
Yes, it is VERY BENEFICIAL to eat lots of fruit and veg (indeed, I try and get my athletes shooting in the ‘6-10 serves per day‘ net); but don’t believe the bogus theories that you can eat as much of those foods as you like. Alongside resulting in some pretty grim side effects (mostly toilet-based, due to all that fibre….), it could put you into a calorie surplus.
Don’t Be Fooled By Deceptive Marketing…
The food industry loves a buzzword. Food companies use the impact that words have on our perception of a product to their advantage all the time, playing on the component of consumer psychology that defines value as a product of name, appearance, and description.
These deceptive marketing strategies trick consumers into a false belief that they are eating a better quality, more nutritious product that will support them to a larger extent in their endeavours to make positive changes in their lifestyle. All thanks to a single word or phrase, like ‘organic’, ‘grass-fed’, or ‘low-fat’….
These adjectives tend to bestow a Health Halo upon a food/drink that really shouldn’t be given the credit it gets. Plus, the fact that the packaging says that the cows from which the yoghurt was produced were raised in 5* accomodation doesn’t merit an extra £3 on the price. Give me a trusty helping of Sainsbury’s Own Greek: same protein, same macros, 1/10 of the price!
On that note, don’t be fooled by a brand name and think that just because it uses language relating to health that it is inherently ‘healthy’. The best examples of these sneaky saboteurs are Innocent and Naked Fruit Smoothies; check out their sugar content compared to standard sugary drinks below.
So much for picking the ‘healthy’ option…
The Final Word
Hopefully I have opened your eyes to the dangers of labelling foods as ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’, and how that sort of categorisation can lead to negative eating patterns that usual involve overconsumption of a particular food or drink due to its percieved ‘healthiness’.
Furthermore, you should now be aware of things to watch out for when trying to make healthier choices in the supermarket for your weekly food shop; the main thing to take away is that you should NEVER be satisfied with the information on the front of the packaging. For in the detail of the nutritional content, there may lie a secret assasin that may hinder your weight loss/healthy living efforts.
Instead of labelling foods as ‘healthy and ‘unhealthy’, try learning to get a balance in life, whereby you allow yourself foods you enjoy whilst also education yourselves on healthy living and nutrition that draws upon largely whole food sources of macro- and micro-nutrients.
And Don’t Fall into the Trap of the Health-Halo….
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