How to Read Labels

9 Nov 2016
Author: Lindsay Johnson
Read time: 5 min
Category: Archive

The most important consideration when choosing your food is freshness. There are critical nutrients in food that are highly perishable. These nutrients are sensitive to time, temperature, and any type of processing. Fresh food contains more nutrients. It is also best for your food to be whole at the time of consumption. Preparing your food ahead of time by cutting, squeezing, or pressing opens up the cell walls and exposes the food to more air causing oxidation which also reduces nutrients. The first thing that cuts your food should be your teeth.

Organic Food 

Another important consideration when choosing food is to use Organic whenever possible. In the United States food labeled as Organic must be grown:

  1. Without the use of any artificial chemically synthesized:

  • Fertilizer
  • Pesticides
  • Herbicides
  • Fungicides

2. Without the use of Genetically Engineered (GE) seeds or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)

3. Without the use of Irradiation

4. Without the use of sewage sludge (over 60,000 toxic chemicals)

5. While caring for the health of the soil

6. With detailed written records of growing practices

Most fresh whole food in the produce section of the grocery store will have a small sticker on it with a four or five digit “Price Look-Up” (PLU) number. The PLU for conventional produce will contain four digits while the PLU for Organic produce will contain the same four digits with a prefix of “9.” For example, the PLU for conventional bananas is “4011” while the PLU for Organic bananas is “94011.” This system of identification is voluntary and is not a Government requirement.

The fresh produce section of your grocery store (or your local farmers market) is where you should do most of your food shopping. Most packaged food that is in a bag, bottle, box, jar, or can has either been exposed to high pressure, high heat (pasteurized) or has artificial chemically synthesized preservatives added to extend the shelf life. This preservation process reduces nutrients and introduces dangerous toxic chemicals. In general, if it doesn’t go bad it is because it already went bad. 

Packaged Food

While fresh food is always best and should make up the majority of your diet, the use of some packaged food is a reality of life for most people. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for assuring that all packaged food sold in the United States is safe, wholesome and properly labeled. Today, all packaged food sold for human consumption must be labeled with:

  • A List of Ingredients
  • A “Nutrition Facts” Chart.

However, the information on the label may be incomplete and misleading. How do we interpret this information and what should we look for?

Ingredients List

The ingredient list on a food label is the listing of each ingredient in descending order of predominance by weight. Water will be listed if it is added and it is not naturally occurring in the other food. However, the list may not be complete. The FDA does not define “trace amounts” added to the food. For example, sulfite preservatives may be added to any food or to any ingredient in any food and not be listed on the label of it is included in a concentration of less than 10 ppm. 

There are many chemicals that are added to food that are not safe to eat. In general, you should be able to recognize and easily read the words listed in the ingredients. The ingredient list should contain whole food names such as “broccoli”, “kale”, “apple”, “beet”, “garlic”, etc. If you do not readily recognize the word as a whole food, has a lot of letters, sounds like it might be a chemical, or you have difficulty pronouncing it like “1-METHYLCYCLOPROPENE”, “BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE”, or “CANTHAXANTHIN” you should not eat it.

Nutrition Facts Chart

The Nutrition Facts Chart will list Serving sizes and Calories as well as macronutrients and micronutrients such as Protein, Fat, Fiber, Carbohydrates, Sugars, selected Vitamins, selected Minerals, Cholesterol, and Sodium.

In general you want to keep:

  • As Low as Possible: Fat, Sugars, Cholesterol, and Sodium
  • As High as Possible: Fiber, Vitamins, Minerals

Also, listed on the Nutrition Facts Chart will be the “Percentage of the Daily Value” of selected nutrients.

Unfortunately, the chart is incomplete and does not list many vitamins, minerals and other critical nutrients such as phytonutrients and enzymes.


It is always best to eat fresh, ripe, raw, organic, local, whole, plant-based foods. This is the way humans are designed to eat. If you eat this way you will be very healthy and you will not need to be concerned whether you are getting the proper amounts and ratios of macronutrients and micronutrients. Animals in the wild do not worry about if they are getting enough of one nutrient or another as long as they are eating the diet appropriately suited for their biological design which is what they do when they are in their natural environment.


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