3 Tips to avoid Healthwashing

Navigating the grocery store aisles can be overwhelming! With all the confusing health claims, it is important to turn the packages over and look at the ingredients to avoid being a victim of healthwashing.  We can often pay more for a product that we think is healthy due to the billions of dollars that was put into food marketing to create the idea that the product you are buying is “good for you.”

What is Healthwashing?

Healthwashing is a term used when a company makes a claim on the front of a package to try to trick the consumer into thinking they are buying a healthier product than they actually are.  In fact, these products may actually be doing the opposite of their claims and contributing to poor health.  

In this study, participants were asked about their health perceptions of foods that are fortified with vitamins. 

“When the snack food carried a nutrient claim for vitamin fortification, participants were:

  1. less likely to look for nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts label
  2. more likely to select the product for purchase
  3. more likely to perceive the product as healthier
  4. less likely to correctly choose the healthier product.”

This study serves as a great reminder that  just because a food is fortified with synthetic ingredients does not mean it is helping to create health in the body.  These foods can often be high in sugar, refined seed oils, and have other ingredients that are best to avoid.

What are examples of Healthwashing label claims?

Non GMO, plant based, gluten free, made with real fruits and veggies, heart healthy, sugar free, low sodium, made with olive oil, and natural, are just a few of the many health claims you may see on the front of the package.  

As a Certified Health Coach and Culinary Nutritionist who has been navigating the confusing marketing claims for the past 8 years, I recommend the following tips…

Tip 1: Read the ingredients

I recommend skipping over reading anything on the front of the package and go straight to the ingredients because that is where you will find what the food is actually made of. I always look for read food, simple ingredients. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, look it up or put the product back because chances are, it is not a real food.  

Tip 2: Be aware of ingredient splitting

Ingredient splitting is when a company will split up certain ingredients so that ingredient doesn’t have to be first in the ingredient list. Ingredient lists go in order by amount, with the most abundant ingredient being first on the list and the least abundant at the end. For this reason, there are over 200 different names for sugar. Here is a list of the most common 56 to look out for. When a company ingredient splits they can list out several different names for sugar (cane sugar, barley malt, molasses, beet sugar, etc) and not have sugar as the first ingredient.

Tip 3: Be mindful of the nutrition panel

I personally like to look at protein, fiber, added sugar and ignore the rest.  When it comes to calories, for example, I’d much rather eat a food higher in calories if it is made with a healthy fat like avocado or olive oil. In other words, it is more important to know what is inside the packaged food than the number of calories or grams of fat.   It is the quality of the ingredients that counts more than the numbers on a nutrition panel. It is also important to look at the serving size, as they are usually quite small and most of us eat 2 or 3 times the single serving.  So when you are looking at grams of added sugar, for example, think about how many servings you will actually eat, instead of just the serving size.

A bottle of orange juice has 26 grams of sugar in 8 fluid ounces. And one bottle contains 2 servings, making the total amount of sugar, 52 grams. How often does someone drink half the bottle of orange juice versus the whole bottle? Something to keep in mind.

Want help navigating the groccery store aisles ?

If you are wanting to fill your cart with foods that taste good and are made with real food ingredients, I’d love to help! If you are wanting to clean out your pantry and make simple swaps, filling your shelves with “better for you” options, I’ve got you covered. I offer Pantry Makeovers and Grocery Shopping Trips where we read the ingredients together. You will leave our time together feeling more confident and empowered to make healthier choices for you and your family. You will leave with a list of ingredients to avoid and why, as well as a list of my favorite recommended “Misa Approved” foods.

Looking for more recommendations?

Check out my blog post, “Misa’s Top 14 Favorite Packaged Foods.”

I hope this post helps you navigate the grocery aisles and inspires you to continue or start reading your ingredients. When we as shoppers, vote with our dollars by buying the products made with real food ingredients, more change will continue to come. In the last 8 years alone, as the demand grows for cleaner options, the amount of choices we have now, versus just a few years ago is huge. This movement is what continues to bring me hope for the future and the health of our next generation.

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