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2019-10-11 02:18:47

You are getting hosed by the halo effect in the supermarket, which means you aren’t eating as healthy as you think you are

Don’t feel bad.

You aren’t alone.

Not long ago, my wife was looking for a new salad dressing. An alternative to ranch. Something with less calories. She went to the store. Gravitated towards the snooty salad dressings — ones in glass bottles half the size and twice the price as the rest of the dressings.

Her fingers found their way to a bottle of Brianna’s balsamic vinaigrette. She tossed the bottle into the shopping cart and started walking away.

“Hang on,” I said.

She stopped. I grabbed the bottle from the cart. Flipped it over. Looked at the nutrition facts.

“You’re better off using ranch,” I said.

“Shut up,” she said.

She thought I was lying.

I wasn’t.

My wife was getting hosed by the halo effect.

The halo effect & R Kelly. 

The halo effect is when a positive impression of someone, or something, in one domain carries over to another (usually unrelated) domain. Example: R Kelly made good music, therefore he’s a good person. His musical talent affects our evaluation of his moral fiber, even though making music has nothing to do with moral fiber.

My wife let a fancy lookin’ bottle influence her evaluation of how many calories were in the salad dressing, even though containers have nothing to do with calories… unless you’re getting hosed by the halo effect, of course.

Clean packaging, clever prose, and crisp pictures can make us feel good about what’s inside of a box, bag, or bottle without us knowing what’s actually inside.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s play a game.

You will fail this.

Would you rather consume something that’s either (a) natural, or (b) artificial? Ewwwwwww. I can’t you’re picking the natural option. I didn’t see you as someone that’d rather eat dog poop, as opposed to drink almond milk.

Want another chance?

Would you rather consume something that’s (a) sugar-free, or (b) full of sugar? Don’t lie: The sugar-free option has a tractor beam and you’re getting sucked in. Because, for whatever reason, certain words trigger warm and fuzzy feelings within us when used in reference to food.


Unfortunately, most buzzwords pasted onto food packages are used to misdirect you, as opposed to inform you… which is why you’re eating the sugar-free stick of butter, as opposed to the sugar-full peach.

A more robust rant on just how backwards these buzzwords are is a job for another day. Suffice to say, they aren’t nearly as reliable as we think they are. More often than not, they’re used to either

(a) create a positive attribute when there is none: functional foods!


(b) direct our attention to a sliver of goodness in a sea of gunk: organic cookies!

Don’t get murdered.

Don’t let things that have nothing to do with how healthy/unhealthy something is influence your evaluation of how healthy/unhealthy is. R Kelly shouldn’t run free because he wrote “I Believe I Can Fly”.

In an ideal world, you’d use the thing and only the thing to inform your evaluation of the thing. This is more difficult than it sounds. Because, in most situations, information is limited. You don’t have the thing in front of you.

Bert brings donuts and coffee to the office every morning for sharing. “Bert is a nice guy,” you say.

Bert is a serial killer.


Thanks to nutrition facts labels, however, we stand a fighting chance against the halo effect in the supermarket.

Surviving the supermarket.

The nutrition facts are you on a Wednesday night, alone, wearing pajamas, eating ice cream from the tub, watching Fleabag. Everything else (packaging, prose, pictures, placement, design, branding, etc.) is makeup and mascara.

Is the food healthy? Don’t let the “organic” sticker and the slogan (which contains the phrase “functional food”) influence your evaluation. Find the nutrition facts. Look at the ingredients.

Is the food low calorie? Don’t let the buzzwords on the box influence your evaluation, even if one of said buzzwords is “low calorie.” Find the nutrition facts. Look at how many calories there are per serving.

The nutrition facts label is the where the naked information lives. And since you should always let the thing be the biggest influence on your evaluation of the thing, the nutrition facts label should be your only consultant. It’s the only way to see beyond the makeup and mascara.

Escaping halo effect hell.

As with most cognitive biases, you rarely recognize when the halo effect has you handcuffed. My wife is shackled every time she goes to the grocery store. The balsamic incident wasn’t an isolated event.

She regularly buys organic granola whatever cereal, even though it tends to have twice the calories as Reese’s Puffs. Hosed. She once bought Simply Jif peanut butter, assuming it wouldn’t have trans fat (like regular Jif peanut butter does), because the word “Simply” was on the jar. Hosed.

I’m not above the law. When I buy beer, I gravitate towards ones interesting names and unique can art, which explains my current obsession with Abomination Brewing.

I know all about the halo effect, but I still get hosed in some domains. Becoming a skeptic and distrusting EVERYTHING is neither easy, nor fun. But if you want to survive the supermarket, it must be done.

May the Gains be with you,Ant


To further explain the intro: Brianna’s creamy balsamic vinaigrette contains 160 calories per two tablespoon serving, whereas Hidden Valley ranch contains 145 calories per two tablespoon serving.


You’d expect balsamic dressing to be healthier than ranch dressing, right? Just like you’d expect something natural to be healthier than something artificial, right? Or something sugar-free to be healthier than something full of sugar, right?



The nutrition facts label is where companies are mandated by law to tell you what’s inside of a food, which makes you wonder: What’s the rest of the package for?

It’s not designed to tell you what’s inside. It’s designed to make you feel good about what’s inside, regardless of what’s inside.

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