Label.ology: General Tips for Reading Labels

September 3, 2015

How to Read a Label
10 Tips

1. Ingredients are listed in order of their proportion in the product. So for me, the first three ingredients are the most important. They’re what make up the majority of the product you’re eating.

2. If the ingredient panel contains long words you don’t recognize, do some research and discover what the ingredient is (or does) before considering whether or not to put it in or on your body.

3. Don’t be fooled by “health halos” with herbs, berries and other ingredients that sound natural but appear at the end of the ingredient list. They are in such miniscule amounts that they are meaningless. It’s just a ploy to charge you more for a product that sounds healthy, but very likely isn’t.

4. Labels do not need to include chemical contaminants. Pesticides, solvents and other toxic chemicals can be used in processing the food without being on the label. It’s best to purchase minimally processed foods and choose fresh as often as possible.

5. Look for whole grains instead of enriched grains and raw and whole ingredients over processed ingredients.

6. Wheat flour doesn’t mean whole wheat. Any flour ground from wheat can be called wheat flour but unless it says whole wheat, it has been processed, bleached and stripped of its nutrition.

7. Brown products may not be healthier than white products. Brown sugar, for instance is simply white sugar with brown coloring and caramel flavor added. Brown bread may be the same as white bread (with added coloring) unless it was made from whole grain flours.

8. Be on guard for deceptive serving sizes. Food manufacturers are notorious for tweaking their serving size to imply that a food is healthier than it actually is. Often, serving sizes have no basis in reality.

9. In the end, shop for whole, unprocessed foods and minimize the task of reading a label. Buying an avocado and making guacamole is a wee bit of effort,t but so much better for your health.

10. When in doubt as to what and when to buy organic, refer to the handy Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen guides provided by the Environmental Working Group and on this site. (LINK HERE)


The Dirty Dozen
Always choose the following ingredients as organic because the commercial versions contain more pesticide residues than deemed safe.

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap peas (imported)
  • Potatoes


  • Hot peppers
  • Kale and Collard Greens


The Clean Fifteen
These fruits and vegetables were tested and showed the least concentration of pesticide residues on samples so feel free to choose these as non-organic.

  • Asparagus
  • Avocadoes
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Onion
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet Corn (non GMO)
  • Sweet Peas
  • Sweet Potato