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Health halos

Fitness magazine, where I am an advisory board member, has a terrific article in its October issue entitled “The halo effect” written by my colleague Sally Kuzemchak, RD.

Consumers often eat MORE when a food is labeled low fat, organic, or even gluten free. In many cases, it is great to look for these labels when you are making your food purchases, but beware that you don’t end up eating a bigger portion, which is what happens so often.

Here are a few label traps to look out for:

ORGANIC. It is great to buy organic fruits and vegetables in many cases, especially when buying from “the dirty dozen” which includes fruits such as apples and strawberries. While organic apples are healthy, (and I’m not to worried about you overdosing on apples), it is important to be advised that organic junk food is still junk food! Buying organic cookies, cakes, and crackers should not give you license to overeat. And, I many cases, you will being a paying a premium for such foods.

GLUTEN FREE. Gluten free products are on the rise but not everyone needs to eat gluten free, and gluten free does not mean that a food is healthier. Gluten free diets are important for people with celiac disease or people who cannot tolerate gluten.  Gluten free cookies, however, are still cookies and these foods DO have calories. In fact, many gluten free products often have more calories than their non-gluten free counterparts. As my expert colleague Shelley Case, RD, author of Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide says “Gluten-free doesn’t automatically equal healthy.”  And, as the journalist Michael Pollan succinctly wrote for a recent New York Times magazine article when asked about gluten free diets: “It’s hard to believe that the number of people suffering from these conditions has grown as fast as this product category. Gluten has become the bad nutrient of the moment…”

LOW FAT AND FAT FREE. According to research in the Journal of Marketing Research, subjects ate 30% MORE candy that was labeled low fat. This does not surprise me as I have so many clients who have fallen into that same trap. Somehow, when a food is labeled low-fat, we often forget that it still contains calories. Same with the fat-free label. I had a client who would eat an entire jumbo bag of licorice because he was enticed by its fat-free label. As I told Fitness magazine, some fat in the diet is good as it aids in satiety. This often means that you end up eating less overall. So, my motto for cookies and cakes is: often times, you are better off sticking with the real thing, enjoying it, and you end up eating less.

So, next time you grab for those organic or fat-free cookies, be mindful of your portion, and try not to overindulge.

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