Here are some examples of how I look at labels/ingredients when shopping for food products. Although I focus on buying real, whole food, getting some food products from time to time is inevitable for most people. The key is to make smart choices. Like outlined in What Should I Eat Part 1, look for limited natural ingredients, trying to avoid wheat, excess or non natural sweeteners (particularly high fructose corn syrup), soy products, vegetable and seed oils, flavorings (artificial or natural), dyes/colorings, food starches, preservatives and any other additives. If you don’t know what it is, avoid it until you figure it out.
Voskos Greek Yogurt Simple ingredients: Milk, cream, nonfat milk, cultures.
Alaskan Pink Salmon from Trader Joe’s One ingredient: Salmon.
Rao’s Homemade Marinara Sauce No extras in here… tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and spices
McCann’s Irish Oatmeal One ingredient: Oats.
Larabar – Ginger Snap Just fruit, nuts and spices.
Kirkland Dry Roasted Almonds No oils in here: dry roasted almonds and salt.
Horizon Organic Half & Half The original version: milk and cream, nothing else
Golden Star Coconut Milk Just coconut milk and water
Salsa Verde from Trader Joe’s You could make it yourself: Tomatillos, green chile, water, onions, jalapenos, salt, spices.
Frank’s Original Red Hot Sauce Once again, simple with no extra stuff.
Here is a product I eat anywhere from sporadically to regularly, making a concession for because I like the product taste and/or convenience and the extra stuff in the food is pretty neutral.
Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Ideal peanut butter is just peanuts and salt, but because I love the consistency of this version I’ll make a little concession for the palm oil (neutral) and a little sugar (2 grams). I stay away from the versions with any other oils, sweeteners or additives.
Here are some foods I get a little less frequently for convenience or taste (but not often because they have some additives I am not comfortable with eating all the time).
So Delicious Coconut Milk Things I am not comfortable with: guar gum and carrageenan (binding agents), folic acid (the body only absorbs folate, not folic acid) and zinc oxide (body doesn’t absorb oxide versions of minerals well and there may be some potential problems with them). It also is fortified with vitamins which I don’t prefer. However I don’t mind every once in a while, depending on the version/form/type used.
Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Not thrilled about the malt flavoring, preservative BHT, or about supporting Kellogg’s, but a simple choice occasionally. If I come across a more natural version (plain puffed rice with or without a little sugar) I would lean that way.
Some quick comparison shopping…
US Wellness Meats Beef Jerky As simple as possible: Beef and salt.
Compare that to…
Pemmican Teriyaki Beef Jerky Too many ingredients, including soy, wheat, sugar, MSG and preservatives
If I’m buying a treat I try to keep it simple. Here are some examples.
Mrs. Mays Coconut Almond Clusters A treat with simple, natural ingredients
Lays Lightly Salted Potato Chips Not great for you but these are about the most simple that I’ve found. Not crazy about the vegetable oil but if I’m going to buy chips, I will usually lean toward a product like this (corn or potato instead of wheat/flour and 3 ingredients).
And very rarely I’ll get something like this… (mostly to appease people at a party or BBQ)
Hidden Valley Light Ranch Dressing Way too many ingredients, including mostly man made stuff: the second ingredient is soybean oil, maltodextrin, natural soy flavors, modified food startch, soy lecithin, carregeenan, corn oil, gumming agents, artificial flavorings, MSG and preservatives. Not ideal for regular use.
For more examples, check out Part 2.
Here’s a few other posts with some examples of labels and ingredients: