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Healthwashing Exposed: 10 Ways To Avoid The Trap

Posted Mar 12 2013 3:13pm
Written by Emily York on March 12, 2013 – -

healthwashing exposed with meghan telpner

by Meghan Telpner

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?

health checkDid 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-busted 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.

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 cream, veggie dogs, hot dogs, and kids breakfast cereal.

pretzel, processed

  • Any peculiarly coloured packaged food- stay away, no matter what the claim. There is no such thing as “Natural Colouring”.
  • Natural and Organic don’t mean “Healthy” (and now rarely mean natural or 100% organic).
  • 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”.
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Which nutritional claim do you most often fall victim to? 

    Want to learn more about how to prepare truly natural, wholesome foods? Check out our Healthy Homesteader course so you can rely less on unknown packages and more on yourself and your own kitchen! In this course you will learn how to feed your family more sustainably, keep your food and wallet’s integrity intact, and much much more! Start feeling great about the food you feed your loved ones.

    Meghan is one of our upcoming guests for this year’s WISH Summit. Affectionately known as our “firecracker of friendliness” she’s gonna come and set a few things straight about food and healthy living! You’ll LOVE her call, so make sure you’re signed up for this year’s WISH Summit to access this interview.( It will be happening on April 2nd so don’t miss it!)

    Meghan Telpner is a Toronto based nutritionista and sought after media personality thanks to her refreshingly humorous, engaging and real approach to healthy living. Her online cooking courses and health programs are improving the health of people around the world. Meghan’s book UnDiet, Eat Your Way to Vibrant Health will be released North America wide in April, 2013. Join Meghan’s community on twitter@MeghanTelpner, or on Facebook at Meghan Telpner Nutritionista. For more visit

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