How Healthy is Your Health Food Store?
Do you shop for health enhancing food? If so, your intentions are admirable, but regardless of your efforts, you may not be getting all the advantages you imagine. Nutrition claims, packaging design and missing information can seduce you into purchasing food that may be less healthy than they appear. Become supermarket savvy to get the edge that yields true benefits.
Organic butter is still butter, raw sugar is still sugar, and hormone free sausage is still sausage. Purchasing wholesome products that are pure, less processed and “cleaner” may carry elements of advantage, but at their core, the nutrition value and its impact on health risk may be identical to the original version.
Many buzzwords and health food stores can be thought of as having a “halo effect”. This is when one positive attribute of an item, concept or company is generalized to a positive belief about the entire entity. Edward Thorndike, a psychologist known for his work in belief systems, behavior and reinforcement, coined this phrase and concept; it is akin to judging a book (food) by its cover.
Research strongly reveals that consumers are more likely to buy products with buzzwords that imply health promotion, regardless of the foods true nutritional value. Advertisers and food manufacturers proudly display these buzzwords which help their product sell faster than their competitor’s version. But the product should be considered in its totality. Regardless of the product’s wholesome element, it could still raise risk of medical concerns (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, etc.) Organic Oreos are still Oreo cookies; Whole Foods’ sweetened yogurt is still a sugar laden yogurt.
The aisles and “grab and go” cases may have “halo labeling” such as “organic, locally sourced, free range, gluten free, whole grain, and vegan” but these products aren’t necessarily angelic. We need to make our best judgements based on the facts, i.e. appropriate serving size and content of calories, fat, sugar, sodium, carbohydrate, fiber and protein as well as vitamin and mineral content. Be sure the underlying facts suit your goals/needs. Many markets and health food stores don’t provide these essential nutrition facts in their “grab and go” or deli case. In these circumstances, consumers often buy and eat larger portions of food making it harder to lose weight or achieve greater health.
The “halo effect” of health food stores or health food brands can seduce us into thinking that any item at their Deli, Salad Bar, Hot Food, and Baked Goods sections may be suitable for health. If no nutrition facts are available for analysis, err on the side of caution and purchase only small amounts of that food.
By becoming supermarket savvy, a conscious consumer can avoid the pitfalls set by marketing strategists.
- Rely on whole foods more often than prepared meals.
- Buy prepared meals as long as there is enough nutrition information available to judge its usefulness in your diet.
- Read labels—look at serving size and nutrition facts.
- Shop at markets where full disclosure of information is revealed.
- Go on an educational tour of a grocery store with your Dietitian/Nutritionist.
Purchasing “natural, organic, free-range, locally grown or fair trade goods” may show commendable behavior, but a true understanding of the product and mindful eating must be used when purchasing and consuming “health” food.
Always feel free to contact your Dietitian Nutritionist who has the authoritative answers that clarify your best selections.