How to Read Labels

Reading labels doesn’t have to be so complicated! It will become like second nature! There might be a slight learning curve and you will make a few mistakes, but that’s ok! It’s all about educating yourself so that you understand the principles of clean eating.

CHECK THE INGREDIENTS: The most important label
Usually, the idea of sticking to foods with less than 5 ingredients is best. This can be a little confusing, so let’s explain. If you’re preparing a recipe and there are 5 clean ingredients, it is ok! Also, when you go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, oftentimes they have “in house” recipes where they have made up delicious side items that consist of very clean ingredients. Sometimes they will have over 20 CLEAN ingredients. So, simply using the 5 ingredient rule is great, but sometimes it can get a little complicated. If you can pronounce the ingredient and KNOW that the ingredients are part of a whole food, spice or herb, then it should be fine! Example below. We had these Carob Energy Bites from a place called Earthfare here in Louisville. There are over 15 ingredients, but I know each of those ingredients are “clean”. If you’re unsure, have it in moderation or don’t have it at all!


As you look at the ingredient list…is each ingredient something you could “take out” of the recipe and eat it all by itself or cook with it? Is it something you could actually buy in the store and cook with? If not, then it probably isn’t clean. An example would be artificial food dyes and flavorings as well as preservatives. Usually, you can’t even pronounce a preservative. Let’s look at a label below…

Hexametaphosphate- what is that? Would you cook with this in your kitchen or eat it by itself? Same with sodium benzoate…that just sounds bad. Look at the label below…we had purchased this without reading the label a few weeks ago. These are the ingredients for a Light Rye Bread. Needless to say, we threw it out once we saw all the chemicals and preservatives listed. It’s rye bread! Why does it need all that crap?

Image 1

Now let’s talk about “low-fat”, “low-carb”, “fat free”, “no sugar”, “light” items.
Usually when I see these items, I think CHEMICAL CRAP STORM! To make a lot of the “lighter” options, companies have to put lots of chemicals into those foods to make them taste just as good without the fat. There are exceptions!! Just make sure you check the ingredient list! For example, 0% Greek yogurt is usually ok!

You’ll start to notice how difficult it is sometimes, even in health food stores, to find truly clean items. It will force you to buy more whole foods and less processed and packaged “inner aisle” foods.

Think of it this way. You want to purchase INGREDIENTS. Not prepared foods that have been enhanced, processed and tampered with.

This section tells us nothing about whether the item is clean or not, but most people who are watching their weight, like to know how many carbs, fats and proteins are in an item. For clean eating, you want to focus more on the INGREDIENTS. Just focusing on ingredients alone will help you pick out nutritionally rich foods to maintain a healthy body weight and reach a goal weight. Of course, if you’re calorie counting, you’ll want to pay attention to those numbers.

Reading labels while eating clean can be a little overwhelming in the beginning, but you really need to focus on ONE thing. The ingredient list! Also remember the 80/20 rule I live by and suggest others do the same. Eat completely clean 80% of the time and the other 20% you can stray from the completely clean items. You will find, over time though, that you actually prefer the clean items and you’ll be throwing more whole foods in your grocery cart! Your palate will change and crave those healthy items it has gotten used to!