Thursday, March 28, 2013

Myth: You can tell if a food is healthy or not by the look of the package.

Answer: BUSTED!

A recent study found that green labels make foods appear healthier or lower in calories.

This ‘halo effect’ may also be in play when you see certain buzzwords on food packages. Does the word “organic” on a food package make it seem like a healthy food? A study found that foods labeled organic were perceived to be lower in calories and rated highly with regard to taste. In spite of the fact that the organic and non-organic labeled foods in the study were identical! Although a limited variety of foods was involved in this study, it’s not hard to imagine that this halo effect may extend to a wider variety of foods.

So what does this mean for you, the consumer? It’s always been a ‘buyer beware’ world, perhaps now even more so. More and more products are introduced each year. Although some food claims or labels are regulated, many labels, such as “natural” or “artisan,” aren’t regulated. These buzzwords come and go. What can you do to avoid the lure of buzzwords?
woman reading food label while grocery shopping

  1. Read the label! The Nutrition Facts panel will tell you about the nutrient content of the food. A food may be organic, but it could still be high in fat. The panel tells all!

  2. Read the ingredient list. If more than one source of sugar is listed, the product may not be a good choice, even if it looks healthy.

  3. Be wary of pictures on food packages. You may see a picture of fruit on the cover but the product may contain little or no fruit.

For more tips about healthy eating, visit

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

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