Sugar Addiction Special: The simple way food branding tricks you

When it comes to sugar addiction the human brain is wired to be a ‘cognitive miser,’ a term used by researchers everywhere. We’re constantly taking mental shortcuts with all sorts of decisions – including buying into the idea of so-called healthy foods. But I’m here to tell you all about the ‘health halo effect.’ Companies have been using it for decades and we still fall for it today…


What is the health halo?

“We will begin to realise that real food is our medicine and fake food is our poison.” – Laura Marquis, Recovered Sugar Addict and Tedx Speaker.

Over 48% of people don’t know how to read a food label properly. This means they may fall prey to the ‘health halo.’ Food branding will lead you to believe the food is healthier than it is by claiming it’s vegan, all-natural or gluten free. Just check on the packaging in the small print for the actual ingredients to see how many grams of sugar is in the food and that ‘added sugar’ isn’t one of the main ingredients in the food.


Is it really healthy? 6 health halo food terms to watch out for

  • Low fat: A food with a low fat label means many people will eat up to 50% more of it, which defeats the object of healthy, moderate eating! To be low-fat or fat-free the food must contain less than 3g or 0.5g of fat per 100g, respectively. But this means there could still be a high level of artificial and natural sugars. After all, some sweets naturally contain no fat but will obviously be chock full of sugar.
  • Natural: Not only will some food packaging declare the contents to be ‘100% natural,’ the company itself may include the word ‘natural.’ Don’t let this fool you – it may still be very high in sugars but hidden under a different name such as sucrose, glucose, molasses and even honey. More alternative names for sugars can be found here.
  • Organic
  • No added sugar: By law, this means the product shouldn’t have any sugar or sweetener added. But this does not mean it is completely sugar-free. There’s a high chance the product will contain naturally occurring sugars and are very high in fat or calories. It’s a great idea to check the ingredients and the calories before purchasing.
  • Gluten free
  • Light or lite: You’ve seen them – the packaging is usually brighter, giving off a healthier vibe. This type of food must contain at least 30% less fat or calories than the regular version. A ‘lite’ product more than likely contains loads of added sugars.


Traffic light food labelling: the way forward?

I can’t stress enough the importance of checking those labels on the food packaging before you consider buying them. But one way you can easily check if a product is genuinely healthy is with the traffic light food labelling system. Now, not all products are required to show this on the packaging, but some do anyway.


The Faculty of Public Health are currently trying to push the traffic light food labelling process through to make it a requirement for all products. They argue that clear nutritional labelling can help people make informed decisions (because we only spend around 4 to 10 seconds checking out the packaging!).


What’s on the traffic light food label?

It’s used quite frequently on pre-prepared and processed food products like ready meals, cereal, meat and sandwiches. Many of these items are notorious for containing high amounts of sugars, but the traffic light food label tells us how much of each is in the product, such as:

  • Fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Sugar / additives
  • Salt


The levels are shown using colours – red means ‘high,’ orange means ‘moderate’ and green means ‘low.’ Some companies using this scheme include:

  • Waitrose
  • Co-op
  • Sainsbury’s
  • McCain
  • Boots
  • M&S


Other companies such as Tesco and Morrisons have adopted a slightly different scheme where they show the typical guideline daily amounts (%GDAs). But the Faculty of Public Health claim this can be an obstacle for consumers as some see them as ‘targets’ to fulfil rather than ‘limits.’ So – it’s best to choose products that clearly display the traffic light food label wherever possible!


For more information on how I can help you on the road to health and wellbeing, get in touch today!