What is the Halo Effect and How Does it Impact the Way You Buy Food?

First off, what is the Halo Effect? The Halo Effect (also known as the Halo Error) is a perception distortion (cognitive dissonance) which affects a person’s judgement of a specific product, brand, person, group, idea, entity, or statement based on things unrelated. It has been recognized by psychologists and marketers for a long time and is widely used in food packaging.

For example, if we see a very attractive person we tend to think they are successful and popular. Another example would be when you go to the grocery store and really want a bag of cookies, but you know they are not healthy. Yet you walk by some chocolate cookies that say “Organic!” and you subconsciously think they are better for you, so you purchase them and proceed to eat the entire bag while you watch reruns of Friends. Just so you are aware, they are still chock full of sugar and technically not good for you.

There are actually five phrases that marketers use to get people to buy certain food products. Looking at food labels should be done while you grocery shop so you know what you are buying and putting into your body. Don’t fall for these phrases and be careful when shopping.

  1. Organic: We are not talking about organic fruits and vegetables when we bring up this phrase. We are discussing processed foods that claim to be organic. To be able to put the “organic” label on food packaging, the ingredients must contain 70% of organic products. It does not mean it is healthy, has no sugar, are healthy calories, and is not junk food. Plenty of organic processed products are unhealthy for you.
  2. Endorsed by [insert organization here]: CrossFit HQ has explained in recent articles that not all “health” organizations practice integrity or and have been found accepting money from big junk food industry players. It says nothing about the sugar or sodium content or how good the food actually is for you if it is endorsed by a specific organization.
  3. Heart Healthy: Just because it claims to be “Heart Healthy” does not mean it does not contain preservatives. It simply just has minimal salt, trans-fat and fat. Again we cannot strain enough – look at the labels of the food you are buying.
  4. Made with whole grain: Ok… but what type of whole grain? rice, quinoa, couscous, millet, spelt, oatmeal, cornmeal? You can get your wholegrains from eating actual rice or oatmeal. You do not need to get whole grains from baked goods, sugary cereals with a crap ton of preservatives. It also does not mean there are only whole grains in the product or there are no preservatives. It just means it was made with some whole grains.
  5. All natural: the word “natural” means a lot of different things to different people and companies. Marketers are banking on the fact we associate “all natural” with “organic”. These food companies sure paint a pretty picture, when in reality they look the same as products that are “organic” but they do not have to go through as many requirements to be deemed an organic product. Heck, some consider high fructos corn syrup organic. P.S. it is not…

These five phrases have eluded the best of us. The best thing to do is to educate yourself when it comes to food. Evaluate your goals and understand how to attain your goals. Know what you are buying and make sure you are not putting chemicals in your body (unless you really want to, then you do you boo). Don’t let these deceptive food marketers to get the best of you.

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