Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Organic. Non-GMO. Healthy. All-natural. Trans-fat-free. Gluten-free. Low-carb. These are terms that we’re seeing more and more in grocery stores, at farmer’s markets, in restaurants, and even in fast-food establishments. But as the saying goes “buyer beware.”

What can often happen when it comes to food and food marketing is something called the “health halo effect.” Basically, the health halo effect occurs when you (meaning, the consumer) overestimate the healthfulness of a food based on a single attribute or label, such as “organic.” As a result, you may end up eating too much of that food, based on the thinking that “if some is good, then more is better.” And research backs this up: Studies have shown that people will eat twice as much of a food they’ve determined to be “healthy” based on the way it’s marketed or on what the label states.

If you think back to years ago to when the fat-free/low-fat craze was going on, you might have fallen prey to the belief that because that Entenmann’s pound cake was fat-free, you could eat as much as you wanted. As a dietitian, I’ve seen this happen. Or, to use another example, some people with diabetes believe that a sugar-free food will have no calories or carbohydrate. While that may be true for diet soda, it’s not true for sugar-free candy or no-sugar-added ice cream. So this week, I’d like to highlight a few “trendy” terms and products that have been interjected into our daily lives and draw attention to the real story behind some of the hype.

Gluten-free. Chances are, you or someone you know is on a gluten-free diet. Maybe they have celiac disease and legitimately need to avoid gluten. Maybe they read somewhere or were told by someone that eating gluten can make you fat; or they’ve diagnosed themselves with “gluten sensitivity,” a rather vague term that doesn’t have much medical science behind it. An abundance of gluten-free products has cropped up over the last few years.

This is a good thing, in many ways, because for those who truly need to be on a gluten-free diet, finding acceptable products has always been challenging. A gluten-free diet, when constructed and followed properly, can be healthy. But not if it consists of gluten-free brownies, gluten-free cake mixes, gluten-free cookies, gluten-free Goldfish crackers, and gluten-free chocolate-covered pretzels, to name a few. These foods are no healthier for you than the “regular” versions. They’re still loaded with calories, saturated fat, and sugar. Is it OK to eat a gluten-free cookie? Absolutely. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s any better for you than any other cookie.

Coconut oil. Coconut oil is another hot topic lately. I’ve had a few readers write indignant comments questioning why I don’t mention or promote this “healthful” fat. The reality is that coconut oil is a highly saturated fat. And despite some of the hype out there about how saturated fat really isn’t that bad, there are plenty of studies (and well done studies, at that) that link a high saturated fat intake to heart disease.

There is some evidence, although not a lot, that coconut oil may not be as “harmful” as some of the other saturated fats out there, such as lard or shortening. Half of coconut oil’s saturated fat comes from a fatty acid called lauric acid. This is a type of medium-chain triglyceride that has some health benefits, such as raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

In fact, most of the credible research done with coconut oil has been on its effect on cholesterol levels. There’s absolutely no good research (meaning, randomized clinical trials — which are the gold standard for research, by the way) on this fat’s effect on long-term health. And there’s no credible evidence that eating coconut oil leads to weight loss or cures Alzheimer, cancer, HIV, or thyroid disease. Go beyond the hype and the anecdotal Internet claims and you’ll find very little evidence. Is it OK to use coconut oil? Sure. A little bit is fine. Just make sure to use unrefined virgin coconut oil. And don’t slather it on your foods or go overboard cooking with it. Let’s wait and see what future research tells us about it.

Organic. The term “organic” means that meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones; in terms of plant foods, “organic” means that the food has been grown without most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. There are specific standards set forth by the USDA to ensure that a food can legally be called “organic.”

There’s no doubt that organic foods are better for the environment and for the livestock. And none of us want pesticides or hormones in our food. But are organic foods really more nutritious for us? When it comes to produce, there’s really no consistent evidence that organic fruits and vegetables are significantly better for us. Any differences in vitamins and minerals are slight. Organic milk and eggs are slightly higher in omega-3 fatty acids, but the amount is still quite low. You’re better off eating salmon for your omega-3’s. Because there are no organic standards for fish and shellfish, there’s not enough evidence to compare “organic” vs. “conventional” seafood in terms of health effects.

Again, it’s clear that organic foods are lower in pesticides, hormones, and other possibly harmful chemicals, which is often reason enough to purchase them. But nutrition-wise, there’s no real basis behind the hype. Surprisingly, organic foods are more likely to be contaminated with pathogens such as E. coli and Campylobacter, according to a 2012 review by researchers at Stanford University, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

More health-halo info next week!

POST A COMMENT       
  

Comments
  1. WOW just what I was searching for. Came hhere by searching for diabetes

    Posted by Katlyn |
  2. I am so tired of hearing all the people who are on gluten free food who don’t need to be and that’s all they can talk about. We don’t bore people with what we can or can’t eat but no one has celiac disease or the need to eat gluten free. We are starting to avoid them like the plague. I know some waiters are also tired of it. They don’t care why they just want the food order.

    Posted by Ferne |
  3. Gluten sensitivity is real, and not something to be dismissed, something that someone who has inflammatory bowel disease has to consider in their treatment. There is some very serious science attempting to clinically identify the disease processes that making eating wheat/gluten products painful, yet doesn’t result in the destruction of intestinal villa, as in a classic Celiac disease diagnosis. A modified diet is recommended.

    CD is an autoimmune disease. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. People that struggle with theses two diseases and/or inflammatory bowel disease from other food allergies only deserve treatment and compassion.

    Posted by rblcfo |
  4. I have some of these problems but I don’t go around boring everyone with them. Everyone has some kinds of problems and some of those with the worst are the most pleasant to be around and always cheerful and smiling.

    Posted by Ferne |

Post a Comment

Note: All comments are moderated and there may be a delay in the publication of your comment. Please be on-topic and appropriate. Do not disclose personal information. Be respectful of other posters. Only post information that is correct and true to your knowledge. When referencing information that is not based on personal experience, please provide links to your sources. All commenters are considered to be nonmedical professionals unless explicitly stated otherwise. Promotion of your own or someone else's business or competing site is not allowed: Sharing links to sites that are relevant to the topic at hand is permitted, but advertising is not. Once submitted, comments cannot be modified or deleted by their authors. Comments that don't follow the guidelines above may be deleted without warning. Such actions are at the sole discretion of DiabetesSelfManagement.com. Comments are moderated Monday through Friday by the editors of DiabetesSelfManagement.com. The moderators are employees of Madavor Media, LLC., and do not report any conflicts of interest. A privacy policy setting forth our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of certain information relating to you and your use of this Web site can be found here. For more information, please read our Terms and Conditions.


Nutrition & Meal Planning
Lower Your Blood Sugar — Eat Slower (07/16/14)
Nutrition…In a Jar! (07/14/14)
Two Thumbs Up for Yogurt (07/07/14)
The Time's Ripe for Vegetables (06/30/14)

 

 

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: You understand that the blog posts and comments to such blog posts (whether posted by us, our agents or bloggers, or by users) do not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs. The opinions and other information contained in the blog posts and comments do not reflect the opinions or positions of the Site Proprietor.


Blood Glucose Self-Monitoring — Part 1: The Gear
Blood glucose self-monitoring is one of the keys to diabetes control. Here are the tools you need to carry out this task.

Perfectionism: An Impossible Goal in Diabetes Management
Striving for good self-care is important, but perfectionism can make diabetes care — and life — more difficult.

Recipes for Spring
Enjoy recipes for Baked salmon on beet greens, Tofu and snow pea slaw, Radish and cucumber salad, Spinach pinwheels, Beet salad with citrus dressing, and Stuffed berries.

Complete table of contents
Get a FREE ISSUE
Subscription questions