Weird Fact: Hikers Are Less Susceptible to the Health Halo Effect

People tend to overestimate the nutritional value in foods labeled "organic" or "trans fat free." Most people, that is, except hikers. Learn more here. 

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
2-minute read

Weird Fact: Hikers Are Less Susceptible to the Health Halo Effect

by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.

I’ve talked about the “health halo” effect before: People tend to overestimate the nutritional value (and underestimate the calories) in foods that are labeled “organic” or “trans fat free.” Of course, leaving out the trans fats doesn’t add vitamins to a food any more than using organic ingredients reduces the calories. Nonetheless, consumers are surprisingly susceptible to this sort of “health-washing.”

See also: Junk Food in Disguise

New research out of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, however, suggests that some consumers are less susceptible to the health halo effect than others. Not surprisingly, those who regularly read nutrition labels are better judges of a product’s nutritional qualities. People who regularly buy organic foods also tend to have a more realistic grasp on their relative benefits. And for reasons that are a little harder to explain, hikers and recyclers seem to make savvier consumers, as well.

Even if you’re an avid label reader (and/or hiker), be especially on guard against the health halo when shopping in health-focused retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. These chains are a great place to get nutritious, wholesome foods—but they also carry a vast array of processed foods, snacks and treats. It’s easy to get carried away! Organic or not, remember to keep the focus on whole and minimally processed foods.

Want more healthy shopping tips? Pick up a copy of my e-book: Nutrition Diva’s Grocery Store Survival Guide.

Two hikers with backpacks from Shutterstock

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.