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Healthwashing Makes Me Feel Dirty: 10 Tips To Avoid The Trap


Have you ever wondered why every item in the produce aisle doesn't carry the "Health Check"? Or perhaps how buying a plastic bottle of water might help women with breast cancer (when the bottle itself is contributing to the high breast cancer rates), or perhaps why women on a diet think that a calorie free, chemical soda might help them lose weight?

Did you know the "Health Check" is absolutely meaningless? Companies pay the Heart and Stroke Foundation to use it on their products, and pay various other groups to use various other claims.

And it works because most of us are fat, sick and working our way towards serious health degradation. I've heard it said that scientists couldn't invent a more perfect diet than the Standard American Diet if the goal was to produce disease in a population.

We buy into the claims that are slathered, star bursted and shouted at us from TV, magazines and food packages themselves because we want so bad for it to work. We are buying and the marketers keep branding, proclaiming and in many cases, completely fabricating health claims on the packaged, processed food they are selling- and many of them don't make any sense at all.

Welcome to the land of Healthwashing.

My very own Superhero (and super shopper) Lisa Borden and I created a Healthwashing Wall Of Shame Facebook page, so that together we can start raising awareness of this extremely unethical practice.

As it's written on the Healthwashing Wall Of Shame

Healthwashing is a term used to describe the activities of companies and groups that position themselves as leaders in the crusade forward to good health while engaging in practices that may be contributing to our poor health... A good product, campaign or service stands on their own goodness, not on a claim and offers FULL DISCLOSURE of all ingredients and activity. (If it's a product on shelf, it's always best to judge something by what's IN the box, not by what's promised across the outside in big, fabulous exciting designs. The bigger the claim, usually the more Healthwashed.

Be informed, and we'll help you along the way. Jen already has been with her tales of ice creamveggie dogs, hot dogs, and kids breakfast cereal.

10 Tips To Avoid Being Healthwashed

  1. Any peculiarly coloured packaged food- stay away, no matter what the claim. There is no such thing as "Natural Colouring".
  2. Natural and Organic don't mean "Healthy" (and now rarely mean natural or 100% organic).
  3. Show me a "Natural Flavours" tree. I am thinking there is nothing natural about "Natural Flavours". Maybe the "Natural Flavours Tree" is in some orchard beside the "Natural Colouring Tree".
  4. The bigger the label, the flashier the health claim, the greater the chance of it being a healthwashed product. Do yourself a favour and pretend you can't read, unless it's the ingredient list (see point 8).
  5. Just because it's in a "natural foods" aisle or health food store does not mean it's healthy. This also goes for specialty foods like gluten-free, kosher, dairy-free etc. (See point 9 and 10 below).
  6. Ensure that most of your diet doesn't come in any packaging to have a claim on it.  Fruits, veg, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, organic and naturally raised animal foods.
  7. Ignore the nutrition label. It means absolutely nothing. NOTHING. For example, in most cases, if good oils are present, you are better off eating a food with more calories from fat than from carbs/sugar. The serving sizes are usually about enough to feed a small kitten, you'll probably eat triple. Nutrition labels are useless. Trust me on this.
  8. If a food carries a claim recognized by a government organization- stay away. Pretty sure that government dictated health regulations haven't done too well for us. (This also applies to the % that appear on the nutrition labels, so please apply rule #7 here).
  9. The only part of a label worth reading is the ingredient list. Read it. If it is too small to read, there are too many items on that ingredient list, if you would be unable to buy each of the ingredients on the list and make the item yourself in your kitchen if you wanted to, then put the box/can/carton/bag down and step away.
  10. If something says "whole", or "natural" or "organic" the ingredient label should tell the true story. That being said, watch out for sneaky tricks like * on certain ingredients with small print below, ingredient items that likely have their own list of ingredients.

Bonus Extra Important Rule: Beware of ingredient splitting.  This is where a company will split up certain ingredients so they don't appear first in the ingredient list. Ingredients on a label are listed by weight. Often packaged food companies will split sugar into glucose, fructose, cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, barley malt, molasses etc. They use any number of names and use a few different ones so that sugar won't appear first on the ingredient list.

Question Of The Day: Which nutritional claim do you most often fall victim to?

36 Responses to “Healthwashing Makes Me Feel Dirty: 10 Tips To Avoid The Trap”

  1. [...] Get the top 10 tips here!  [...]
  2. what exactly is "healthwashing?" A great guide from meghan telpner......
  3. [...] toe as healthy, when truth be told, if you looked at the ingredients they are a prime examples of healthwashing. Their marketing campaign was pretty freaking smart. So smart that they actually asked me to be a [...]
  4. [...] product development  for the Toronto-based Janes Family Foods- who like to bathe themselves in Healthwashing- “If I want to have a Twinkie and wash it down with a glass of Kool-Aid to relive my [...]
  5. [...] there are the “nutrition experts” who  healthwash our very own “Healthwashing” title by declaring an Egg (Mc)Muffin a better breakfast option than a bran muffin (and also [...]
  6. [...] been talking a lot about healthwashing on the Love in the Kitchen blog lately. When it comes to some of the moo-vers and shakers of [...]
  7. [...] that we’ve been rocking the healthwashing theme all week- this next line in our creed fits like BHT coated cereal bag in a phthalate [...]
  8. NA said… May 24, 2013
    Health Check has to follow guidelines before approving a company's request - they aren't just getting money and putting their logo on a package. I agree with everything else in this article except for the Health Check bashing.
  9. […] the market that I could find.  And I can confidently, knowingly tell you that these brands do not healthwash or […]
  10. I really loved this post and the one on Arbonne. Very eye-opening and helpful to me! It can be extremely difficult to navigate the "healthy" and "safe" products bombarding us from every angle! You have great information here! :)

Before you post your comment, please note that I am unable to offer nutritional advice or recommendations via my blog.

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