Top five signs for spotting health washing

“Freshness wrapped up. Try our new Signature McWrap®. With 100% seasoned chicken breast (grilled or crispy) and crisp, fresh veggies all wrapped up in a soft whole wheat tortilla, it’s a breakthrough way to think about lunch.”

That’s how McDonalds describes their newest offerings, the Signature McWraps.  It’s a perfect example of health washing – giving a nutritional halo to a food product or dish based upon the promotion of  certain features or ingredients when not all the attributes may measure up.

Did you catch the three important concepts: freshness, veggies and a whole wheat tortilla?

But what you might not notice as you go for those fresh veggies and whole grains is the sodium content.  Here’s a rundown:

•    Fiesta Signature McWrap with Crispy Strips – 1330 milligrams of sodium and 580 calories

•    Chicken and Bacon Signature McWrap with Grilled Chicken  – 1020 milligrams and 480 calories

•    Chicken and Bacon Signature McWrap with Crispy Strips – 1330 milligrams of sodium and 600 calories

To put that into perspective, consider that the daily recommendation for sodium is 1500 milligrams per day and the upper limit is 2300 milligrams.

There may be better ways to get your fresh veggies and whole grains.

Yup- that's a salad! © Topola024 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Yup- that’s a salad!
© Topola024 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

So how can the average consumer tell what’s health washing and what’s healthy?

Here are the top five signs to look for in a name:

•    Fruit
We all know that we should be upping our intake of fruits and vegetables. But when you see fruit smoothies, chews, muffins, desserts, drinks and the like, think about what else is in there with it. While there may be fruit in the dish, what’s the real deal? In packaged goods, look for the sugar, fibre and caloric content to assess its nutritional value. Some products contain only fruit flavouring and no real fruit at all.

If you’re at a restaurant, ask what the ingredients are to help you figure out its nutritional worth. If you’re at a chain eatery and they don’t know because they use a prepared mix, there’s a good chance there’s extra sugar in there.

As well, be aware that one common ingredient, white grape juice is simply sugar with very few, if any, of grapes’ nutritional perks.

•    Salad
As we saw in the study mentioned in my previous post, put anything on a bed of greens and the perception of its health status tends to climb dramatically.

Look at all the ingredients and base your judgements on each. If your salad is packed with cheese, bacon, croutons and/or dressing, a sandwich or even a burger might be a more nutritious choice.

•    Crispy
If you see the word crispy used to describe a fish or chicken dish, you would likely know that the dish is fried. Combine crispy with the word salad and that health halo suddenly appears.  But even in a salad, you can count on crispy to equal breaded and fried.  And if it’s not breaded chicken or fish, then crispy likely means one of the ingredients is deep-fried noodles, tortillas or other carbs that have taken a plunge into the deep fryer, leading to a remarkable climb in fat counts.

•    Fresh
Here’s another one that’s often paired with salads, juices, sandwiches and more to give the impression of top notch nutrition. This word doesn’t really mean anything either way when it comes to the healthfulness of a food.

•    Natural
You might think that consumers aren’t fooled by this one, but the word  natural  still has its appeal. Even if an ingredient is can be called “natural,” because it is not made in a lab,  the product may offer few nutrients.
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How many examples of health washing can you think of? Have you fallen for any? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Rosie's Rants, Tips and Tricks

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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