I was so amused with this ad in the window of an ice cream parlor during my recent vacation. It is interesting to me how we can be so "health-conscious" in America, yet continue to struggle with increasing waistlines. While buzz words such as natural, organic, whole wheat, low fat, gluten free, non-GMO are intended to guide the health-conscious consumer to simple healthy solutions, it seems we just continue to eat more - not less. Brian Wansink and Pierre Chandon from Cornell University have researched this paradox and describe a "health-halo" effect when foods are labeled in this way. Their research indicates that consumers underestimate how much they are eating and end up increasing their overall calorie consumption. See article here.
This phenomenon is hardly new in our culture. I can vividly recall the “Snack Well” era which is another great example of this health halo effect. Back in the late 80’s, eliminating fat in foods was the solution to America’s increasing waist line. Therefore, non-fat foods such as Snack Well cookies, Entenmanns pastries, and a slew of nonfat versions of cheese, salad dressings, etc. filled the grocery
stores. Misguided consumers believed that if you eliminated fat in food, you would lose weight and be healthy. When that didn't work, carbohydrates was suggested as the culprit for our health problems. Today, branding foods to help guide the consumer to healthy food options, (foods like the new “Satisfries- a low fat, less calorie fast food option) seem to continue to confuse consumers.
When an individual is trying to manage their weight and health outcomes, it is vital to recognize that "eating healthier" doesn't necessarily mean that an individual has created a caloric deficit that prevents weight gain or result in weight loss. Instead, staying aware of portions and internal cues versus judging food - not as "good" or "bad" or an opportunity to "indulge" - can help reduce mindless eating.
Remember, eating doesn't need to be so difficult.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease