Decoding Nutrition Labels

Reading nutrition labels can be daunting, but being an informed clean eater is at the core of this lifestyle change. After a few trips to the store you will be a pro! The following are things that I look for on nutrition labels.

  • The most important part of the nutrition label is the ingredients list – this is where you will find everything that is contained in a product. Ingredients are listed in order of dominance. The most prevalent ingredients are listed first followed by less prevalent ingredients.
  • Clean foods usually have a short ingredients list, ranging from 1-8 items.
  • A general rule of thumb is the longer the list, the more processed the food item.
  • It is very important to note where sugar and salt are found on the list.
  • Strive to chose items that are unsweetened or unsalted. If that is not possible, sugar and/or salt should be listed near the end of the ingredients list.

The following are ingredients that should be avoided when choosing items at the grocery store. Most are known carcinogens and/or linked to major illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, ADD, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity.

  1. Preservatives (look for these in packaged items like bread, pasta, frozen meals, ice cream, etc.)
    • Sulfites/sulfates
    • Potassium sorbate
    • Sodium nitrate/nitrite
    • Disodium EDTA
    • Sodium benzoate
    • DEA
    • BHA and BHT
    • Parabens
    • Silicon dioxide/silica
  2. Refined and artificial ingredients
    • Wheat flour, enriched flour, white flour, white rice flour, starches
    • Sucrose, sugar, dextrose, fructose
    • Sucralose/Splenda
    • High fructose corn syrup/corn syrup
    • Sugar alcohols: xylitol, sorbitol
    • Artificial colors (FD&C)
    • Artificial flavors
  3. Processed soy
    • Vitamin E derived from soy
    • Hydrolyzed soy protein
    • Soy lecithin
    • Soy flour
    • Soy protein isolates
  4. Industrialized meat
    • Conventional dairy products (butter, yogurt, milk, cheese, eggs)
    • Corn- and grain-fed meat
    • Conventionally preserved/smoked meat (bacon, lunch meats, etc.)
  5. Processed fats
    • Hydrogenated or fractioned oils of any kind
    • Canola oil
  6. Other icky stuff, buy organic to avoid any of these hidden ingredients
    • Potassium sorbate (one of the ingredients in the lethal injection!)
    • MSG
    • Alum
    • Calcium propionate
    • Carageenan (carcinogenic)
    • Many canned items are lined with BPA
  7. Avoid GMO’s or Genetically Engineered “Foods” by looking for Non-GMO Project Verified foods.
  8. The most common GMO’s are:
    1. Soy
    2. Cotton/cottonseed oil
    3. Canola
    4. Corn
    5. Sugar beets
    6. Hawaiian papaya
    7. Alfalfa
    8. Squash (zucchini  and yellow) source
    9. Potatoes
    10. Rice
    11. Tomatoes
    12. Conventional Meat and Dairy products
    13. Farmed Salmon
  9. GMO’s may be present in the following processed food additives:
    • Amino Acids
    • Aspartame
    • Ascorbic Acid
    • Sodium Ascorbate
    • Vitamin C
    • Citric Acid
    • Sodium Citrate
    • Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”)
    • High Fructose Corn Syrup
    • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
    • Lactic Acid
    • Maltodextrins
    • Molasses
    • Monosodium Glutamate
    • Sucrose
    • Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
    • Xanthan Gum
    • Vitamins
    • Yeast Products
  10. Produce on the dirty dozen plus list should be purchased organically, because they are known to contain a significant amounts of dangerous chemicals
    1. Apple
    2. Celery
    3. Sweet Bell Peppers
    4. Peaches
    5. Strawberries
    6. Nectarines
    7. Grapes
    8. Spinach
    9. Lettuce
    10. Cucumbers
    11. Blueberries
    12. Potatoes
    13. Kale/Greens
    14. Green beans
  11. Many fruits and veggies are sprayed with fungicides or have toxic skin/peels, these are not part of the Dirty Dozen list
    • Bananas
    • Citrus fruits
    • Conventionally packaged lemon and lime juice contain preservatives

Please email me (maria at mariamakesmuffins dot com) or comment below if you have questions about ingredients that you see listed on labels that I did not list above or find ingredients that should be added to this list. I will be updating this page regularly with yours and my findings.

Updated 4/3/13