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Puppy Chow and Health Halos

Recently I received an email from a friend of mine with a link to a “Healthy Puppy Chow” recipe. For those of you who didn’t click the link, here’s the ingredient list:

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

  • ½ cup creamy cashew butter

  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

  • ½ cup water

  • ¼ cup honey

  • 7 cups of Quaker Oat Squares

  • ½ cup chia seeds

Looking over the recipe, I started thinking about the different ways people define the word “healthy”, and how eating behaviors might change if a dish or recipe was defined as such. Research on the health halo effect has indicated that when we label or perceive something as “healthy”, we are automatically more likely to eat larger portions of it – in some cases negating the benefits of the change.

I decided to compare the above recipe to a “normal” puppy chow recipe to see what the differences really were. I decided to use the recipe found here as a comparison.

The “healthy” recipe is far superior in terms of protein (almost twice as much) and fiber. This is important as these nutrients are very satiating (filling) and fiber in particular is generally a nutrient of concern for Americans, as we get less than half of what is recommended on a daily basis.

That being said, the “healthy” recipe has almost 500 more calories than traditional puppy chow (total, not per serving). Calories alone do not measure the health value of a food – far from it – and it’s possible that the extra protein and fiber would lead to increased fullness and smaller portions of the healthy recipe. But when we label foods as “healthy” (like we do with Subway compared to McDonald’s), we usually end up eating more of it, even if it’s already higher in calories.

For someone struggling with their weight, this is a problem. These individuals are often seeking out foods and recipes labeled as “healthy” in pursuit of managing weight, but in cases like these puppy chow recipes it may be counter-productive. Nutritious foods are not always low in calories, and low-calorie foods are not always nutritious. An understanding of both of these factors is important to ensure that we are both well-nourished and maintaining a weight that’s right for our body.

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