Six Deceptively “Healthy” Foods to Watch For

Every day, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re bombarded with wickedly persuasive marketing tactics that are designed to make the food you eat seem healthier than it actually is. Big corporations are using buzzwords, graphics, and even food coloring to convince you to think you’re making healthy decisions in the grocery store, drive-through, and more. Fortunately, we can combat deceptive food marketing tactics by making informed decisions about the products we buy.

One technique often employed by food brands is something called a “health halo.” This refers to any marketing tactic used to make foods, brands, or even ingredients seem healthier than they actually are. Much like how greenwashing is used to make companies look more environmentally savvy, a health halo will make company products seem healthier, all for the sake of increased consumption.

What each of us deems as “healthy” food will differ from person to person. Our bodies often have their own unique requirements, but the basic tenets of healthy nutrition remain universal. Healthy portion sizes, lean proteins, limited processed foods, and refined sugars.  So what are some common deceptively “healthy” foods that may be disguised with a health halo?

  1. Spinach Wraps

While invitingly green, these healthy wraps may not be all that healthy.. These wraps only contain trace amounts of spinach and are often made with refined grains, leading to very little calorie or carbohydrate differences from other wraps. In fact, the green color of these wraps is often a result of food coloring. The spinach added is often powdered, further decreasing the nutritional benefit.

  1. Plant-Based Yogurts, Milk, or Ice Cream

As a general rule, the more plants in your diet, the better. Unfortunately, like many pre-packaged foods, plant-based yogurts and ice cream products vary widely in terms of nutritional benefits. While some may offer additional fiber, they also can contain lots of added sugars and contain far less calcium, protein, and potassium. Additionally, plant-based ice creams like coconut milk ice cream contain high amounts of saturated fats and generally no minerals, vitamins, or other necessary nutrients. The bottom line? Ice cream is ice cream.

  1. Premade Health Shakes

Store-bought smoothies found in the grocery store may seem like a healthy drink, especially as an alternative to a soda or glass of juice. The problem with premade smoothies is that you have no control over the quality or the quantity of the smoothie’s ingredients. That often means they contain more added sugars, artificial sweeteners, fruit juice, and more. Some smoothies can contain as much sugar as a bottle of Coca-Cola.

  1. Veggie Chips

This is another case in which the presence of vegetables doesn’t mean the food has significant nutritional value. Once vegetables have been processed into chip form, they lose the majority of the vitamins and chemicals that provide nutritional benefits. As with most processed food, veggie chips are often high in calories and fat. While they may contain trace amounts of spinach powder or tomato paste, a serving won’t make any meaningful contribution to your overall health.

  1. Liquid IV & Sports Drinks

Even the name “Liquid IV” promotes the idea of health, but what you may not know is that these drinks are often packed with sodium and carbohydrates. Those who run marathons or work out more than two hours a day may require the electrolyte boost these drinks espouse, but for the average American, these drinks don’t offer much more nutritional benefit. Just one serving of Liquid IV contains over 500 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of added sugar.

  1. Turkey Bacon and Sausage

It’s easy to assume that since you aren’t eating pork or beef, you’re making a healthier choice with turkey. However, products like turkey bacon or sausage remain heavily processed. For those of us who can’t eat red meat, but still crave bacon in the morning, these products are definitely healthier, but you should stick to small portions to avoid overconsumption of processed foods.

Despite these products not being as healthy as advertised doesn’t mean drinking a sports drink or having a bowl of frozen yogurt is going to kill you. In fact, some of these products may be completely fine for a nutritional diet, if eaten in moderation. The most important thing is that we understand the nutritional value of the foods we consume every day.

When it comes to food, the old adage is true: knowledge is power, which is where a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) comes in.

“I want to empower people to make healthy choices, so you don’t have to ask, ‘What is healthy?’” said Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, Gale Pearson of TPMG Nutrition Services in Newport News. Working alongside an RDN, you’ll be able to craft a nutrition plan that fits your needs and find nutritional alternatives to unhealthy snacks.

Now not everyone selling food is trying to scam or trick you. Some food labels are incredibly useful tools for the development of a healthy nutrition plan. Reading the nutrition facts on the products you buy, especially those that are processed, can help you become a smarter consumer. With the right information, you’ll begin to notice some of the foods you eat every day may also have a health halo.


Gale Pearson

About Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES

Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 25 years of experience working with patients on dietary and nutrition wellness planning. Gale received her undergraduate degree from Hampton University and her Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Howard University.

With extensive experience in nutrition counseling, Gale works with her patients to develop strategies to improve their eating habits and lifestyles, in turn helping them to manage their weight and medical conditions. She credits witnessing her patients’ symptoms and overall health improvement as a result of the lifestyle changes as one of the most gratifying and rewarding aspects of her career.

At TPMG Nutrition Services in Newport News and Williamsburg, Gale provides one-on-one consultations, nutrition and weight management counseling, and diabetes education.

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