You may have heard of the halo effect at some point in your life. This is when we know something positive about someone or something, and in turn it positively affects how we view them in every other aspect. It helps us overlook the negative because we have already formed a positive outlook on this person or thing. More recently I have been noticing the halo effect at the grocery store. By this I mean the foods that we would typically consider unhealthy are now portrayed as healthy in one way or another. The people behind the scenes at marketing departments have it all figured out. They know exactly how to appeal to consumers who are increasingly becoming more health conscious. We need to become more aware of their schemes so that we can avoid these nutritional traps! Here are a few that I have noticed.

Pre-portioned empty calories
How many times have we passed by prepackaged cookies with a label to some extent of “Only 100 calories!”? When I see this my reaction goes something like, “Only 100 calories? That can’t be bad!” WRONG! The fact is, we are still consuming 100 empty calories. It may seem like a strategy for portion control, but their convenience makes them easier to grab for when we are bored, and their low calorie content makes us likely to grab more than just one. Additionally, most pre-portioned snack packs are sub par when it comes to satiety. Instead, keep apples, pears, or bananas on your kitchen counter. With this exchange, we consume approximately the same amount of calories (depending on size!) while getting more nutrients and do not have to compromise for convenience. The extra fiber will help us feel fuller too!

“Calorie free” cooking sprays
Sure they are calorie free, if you can manage to spritz your whole pan in ¼ of a second (which is the recommended serving size). What a lot of people don’t know is that “calorie free” is usually not. Under 5 calories is legally considered calorie free. So say you take a full second to cover the surface area of the pan, you have already quadrupled the amount of “0” calories. These actually start to add up to a substantial amount, especially if you use it multiple times per day. I recommend using healthy oils such as olive or avocado. While this swap will not save us on calories, these oils are high in monounsaturated fats that are proven to decrease total cholesterol and LDL (the bad guys) while increasing HDL (our friend).

Sports drinks
For most of us, long gone are the days of 90 minute soccer games that we could benefit from the loads of liquid sugar that is a sports drink. We see the benefit of replacing electrolytes and quickly dismiss the sugar content, which can be comparable to a can of pop! Lots of studies have been done to prove that unless you are engaging in more than about an hour of physical activity, we can spare the extra sugar calories and reach for a water instead!

Fortified sugar bombs
I think it’s great that a lot of big name brands have been adding the extra vitamins and minerals to their cereals. However, it makes us justify reaching for these sugary cereals as our morning choice of carbs. Instead, let’s have some colorful fruits that provide us a more nutrient dense option to start off our day. Plus, they have lots of antioxidants to combat aging and disease.

In general, we all know what is healthy and what isn’t, but we need to stay aware and be on our A-game while grocery shopping to avoid these marketing traps. Using simple swaps will help you be sure to get more nutritional bang for your buck! Happy shopping :).

Kirsten Keay – Nutrition & Dietetic Professional