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Decoding Food Labels: A Crash Course in Making Informed Choices

Jan 5, 2024 | start here

In the maze of grocery store aisles, food labels can be your guiding light or a confusing puzzle. Understanding how to decode them is key to making informed choices for a healthier lifestyle. Let’s jump in on a crash course in deciphering food labels, ensuring you pick the best options for your clean eating journey.

Section 1: The Basics of Food Labels

Reading food labels begins with understanding the basics. Every packaged product comes with a nutrition facts panel and an ingredients list. Here’s what you need to know:

Nutrition Facts Panel:

The nutrition facts panel provides information on serving size, calories, and nutrient content. Pay attention to the serving size to accurately assess what you’re consuming. For example, if a serving size is one cup, but you eat two, you’ll need to double the calories and nutrients listed. Please note that this is only a PART of the information. DO NOT rely on this.

Ingredients List:

This is a more accurate picture of what is in the particular food you are eating. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. The first few ingredients are the most prominent in the product. Look for concise lists with recognizable, whole foods. Beware of products with long lists of additives and preservatives. I tend to lean towards the idea of, if I can’t pronounce it it probably doesn’t need to be in my food. That definitely keeps things moving faster & easier if I’m trying to hurry with my shopping. The simplest thing to remember when reading a food label is that a simple & short list, easy to read & recognizable ingredients is always better.

Note…. learning other names for things like sugar (always opt for REAL sugar) fillers etc will help you as you learn to read food labels. There are many sites dedicated to just that.

Section 2: Understanding Macronutrients

To make informed choices, it’s crucial to understand the three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.


All carbs are not the same. You have simple & complex. Simple carbs are those from breads & rice. Things our body breaks down pretty fast. This doesn’t mean they are bad. Remember, QUALITY changes everything. Complex are the sugars found in fruits & vegetables & other fiber heavy foods. These are, in my opinion, what we should aim to have more of, however, eating those fruits & vegetables in season also matters when it comes to their nutrient density. Simple carbs found in long fermented sourdough, are just as good though, as the complex carb found in an apple in season. See, the process of a food & quality matters a great deal when measuring its nutritional value.


An animal raised in its natural environment in a way that best supports that animal, the soil & the things around it will always be superb in nutrient density, therefore it will inevitably be much higher in protein & offer much more than just protein. Sure, there are other ways to get protein & good quality protein, but none of them will come close to grass fed & finished beef, or pasture raised (not cage free or free range, that is not the same as pasture raised. Those chickens & pigs are still confined a good bit of their lives) chicken & pork or wild caught (NEVER farm raised) seafood. That’s just the truth. I’m not vilifying vegetarians, but it’s just a physiological fact that we cannot get everything we need from fruits & vegetables only. And no alternate protein source will pack the nutritional punch animal protein does.


We have been taught to fear fat & opt for low fat everything. But that has made a very good portion of us sick. Lacking many nutrients that are vital to our health. You should always choose the full fat option of a real, whole food source. That means very little if anything at all has been removed. With dairy being the exception. But that’s for another blog. For now just know, low fat or no fat isn’t necessarily your friend in most food items. Fats in coconut oil & avocado oils are jam packed with great benefits to us. LEAVE THE OTHER OILS ALONE!

If I could go off script for just a moment & STRONGLY encourage you to do ONE thing IMMEDIATELY it would be to get rid of any & all things with canola, &/or vegetable oil in them DO IT NOW! Those two things wreak havoc on our health. I’ll deal with this topic in depth at a later time, but for now, I’m asking you to trust me.

Ok back to fats! Fats are not bad. We need them actually. In the right form, they are our friend.

Section 3: Unmasking Hidden Sugars and Additives

I’m going to start by saying something that is highly unpopular. But that doesn’t make it untrue. SUGAR IS NOT BAD! Sugar in it’s raw unprocessed way is not bad. We actually need sugar for fuel. Sugar, in many ways, is the gas in our gas tank so to speak. The type of sugar we consume & the amount (good or bad) is what changes the game. Sugar is given various names on food labels, such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, other types of syrups and nectars. Lets be crystal clear here, NEVER EVER is high fructose corn syrup, or corn syrup of any kind good. Be cautious of products with multiple forms of sugar listed because, 1- just because sugar isn’t bad doesn’t mean large amounts are good, & 2- there should only be one form of sugar or sweetener & that form should not be a synthetic additive. Things like raw honey, pure maple syrup, & raw sugar are all sugars that have a lot to offer nutritionally if eaten proportion to what we are adding them to. So, don’t live in fear of sugar & please do not cut it out completely as that would set you backwards in your health journey.

Additives and Preservatives:

I hope by now after reading the above information you know to just steer clear of these altogether as much as you can.

Section 4: Grains

Not all grains are created equal. Differentiate between whole grains (sprouted is best) and refined grains in product labels.


Example: Choose bread with “sprouted wheat flour” as the first ingredient instead of “enriched wheat flour.” Never go with enriched as the nutrients have been taken out & synthetic fillers have been added back in to retain texture. Sprouted grains aid in better digestion &help with gut health.


Decoding food labels is a skill that empowers you to take control of your nutrition. Arm yourself with knowledge, read labels diligently, and make choices that align with your clean eating goals. Your health journey starts with the choices you make with the food you buy.