10/25/2011 09:23 EDT | Updated 12/25/2011 05:12 EST

10 Tips to Avoid Healthwashing


Have you ever wondered why every item in the produce aisle doesn't carry that healthy check mark? Or perhaps how buying a plastic bottle of water might help women with breast cancer, or perhaps why women on a diet think that a calorie-free, chemical soda might help them lose weight?

We buy into the claims that are shouted at us from TV, magazines and food packages themselves because we want so badly for them 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.

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 its own goodness, not on a claim. If it's a product on a 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. I believe that the bigger the claim, the more healthwashed the product usually is.

My 10 Tips To Avoid Being Healthwashed

1. Any peculiarly coloured packaged food -- stay away, no matter what the claim. I think there is no such thing as "natural colouring."

2. Natural and organic don't always mean "Healthy" (and now rarely mean natural or 100 per cent 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. I believe that the bigger the label, the flashier the health claim, and 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. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, seeds, organic and naturally raised animal foods are good diet staples.

7. Ignore the nutrition label. For example, I believe that, 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. Trust me on this.

8. If a food carries a claim recognized by a government organization -- take this with a grain of salt. I'm pretty sure that government dictated health regulations haven't always done too well for us. (This also applies to the percentage that appear on the nutrition labels, so please apply rule number 7 here).

9. I think 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," "natural" or "organic" the ingredient label should tell the true story. That being said, watch out for sneaky tricks like asterisks on certain ingredients with small print below, ingredient items that likely have their own list of ingredients.