Grocery Guide: Reading Labels and Sourcing

This is a grocery guide to help understand what to look out for when sourcing your proteins, oils, fruits, and vegetables, and make reading labels easier.

Physical health and well-being is the foundation to living our best lives. When we feel well, we do better in all aspects of what we do. 

Making the decision to make better choices may be an easy one- but where to begin is what can be difficult. We as a society didn’t get this way overnight. We’ve become more disconnected from our food with our busy modern lives now more than ever. 

reading labels grocery guide
*a note on supporting local farmers*

The more we support local organic or regenerative farmers the more we can create awareness to make these foods more available to everyone. 

Regenerative agriculture involves bringing soil back to life by supporting the microbiome in the soil and allowing crops and animals to co-exist in a way that mimics nature. 

Organic agriculture supports the health of the animals and the farmer by avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides as well as GMO’s. 

These farming techniques are better for you, the animals, the farmers, and the environment than conventional farming.

This scenario isn’t always perfect where we can go directly to the source however, and that’s were learning to navigate the grocery store is important.

Download the full foods list here

Grocery Guide Tips


What to look for: Grass-fed, Pasture Raised, Organic

Beef, bison, and Lamb: Red meat is high in protein and contains important nutrients such as niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, zinc, selenium, and phosphorus. Look for grass-fed and finished (or 100% grassfed), this means the animals were pasture-raised and fed their natural diet free of grain and soy. Organic is second best, as these animals are typically still spend time outdoors and eat organic feed and weren’t given growth hormones or antibiotics.

Pork: Pasture raised pork is higher in Vitamin D as the animals were raised outdoors. Bonus if it’s labeled organic.

Poultry and Eggs: Pasture raised is higher in beta carotene and vitamins A and E. Look for pasture raised as that means the animals were free roaming outdoors and able to eat a more natural diet of insects, worms, and grasses (and its a bonus if its organic because that means antibiotic use is not permitted). Cage-free does not necessarily mean the animals were kept outside and may still be living in tight quarters. Buy poultry with skin and bones for more glycine and amino acids, as well as a cheaper price point!

Fish and Shellfish: Best practice is to find wild caught and sustainably sourced fish as they have less impact on the environment. The smaller the fish is better, as bigger fish have had more time to accumulate toxins and mercury. Shellfish are also a great source of trace minerals.

grocery guide reading labels tips


What to look for: Raw, Grass-fed, Organic, A2, non-fortified, whole milk, cultured


Dairy is extremely nutrient dense – I would even call it a super food! It is especially good for people who don’t consume other animal products whether by choice or because of sensitivities. Milk is considered a complete food because of its protein, fat, and carb ratios. It also contains minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, manganese, copper, and iron. 

Raw milk is also allowed in some states and has the added bonus of keeping enzymes intact and has a supply of beneficial bacteria. Raw milk helps balances blood sugar, includes healthy saturated fats complete with fat soluble vitamins, contains natural sugars for energy production, increases copper utilization because of retinol content (animal based vitamin A), and assists metabolism, thyroid function, digestion, and liver detoxification. Cheese, yogurts, kefir, and sour cream are also great sources for probiotics and micronutrients.

Not all milk is created equal!

Pasteurization decreases nutrient and enzymes content, however if raw milk is not available to you, grass-fed is second best, followed by organic. Conventional milk is extremely processed and comes from unhappy cows treated with antibiotics and hormones. Watch out for milk that is SYNTHETICALLY fortified (adding vitamins A and D is NOT the same as naturally occurring!)

A note on lactose intolerance:

Lactose intolerance is the inability to make the lactase enzyme to break down milk. Healing gut inflammation may help increase lactase enzyme production. A2 milk also has more easily digestible protein. Cultured dairy has reduced lactose and is more tolerable for people with a sensitivity. Some people may even want to start with goat’s milk or sheep milk and see if they digest it better than cows milk.

Dr. Ray Peat suggests you can build back lactase enzyme (therefore reversing lactose intolerance) by SLOWLY reintroducing dairy in SMALL amounts daily- starting with cheese, butter, or raw milk. 

You can also take a lactase enzyme to support this process like this one. (use code JOANNA15 for 15% off)

Oils and Fats:

What to look for: butter, ghee, coconut oil, tallow, organic olive oil, organic avocado oil

Oils and fats are not the same! For one, a fat is derived from animal based food, and oil is derived from a plant based food. For millennia we consumed animal fats or cold pressed oils. Vegetables oils and hydrogenated fats are highly processed and have only widely became available at the turn of the 20th century.

Saturated Fats are the most stable and good to cook with. Some examples are butter, ghee, coconut oil, and tallow. Look for organic, pasture raised for fats and organic, fair traded, and sustainably sourced for oils. Monounsaturated is the next stable such as olive oil, palm oil, and duck fat.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and processed seed oils such as canola, vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and cottonseed oil are highly unstable and susceptible to becoming rancid which then creates toxic free radicals.

These should be avoided and are often contained hidden in the ingredients list on packaged foods.

Here are two blogs more in depth about saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats:

Fruits and Vegetables:

Try to source in season and organic when possible

Fruits and vegetables provide so many vitamins and minerals as well as phytonutrients and antioxidants. Its best to try to source local and in season produce, as this will ensure more nutrient density as well as a much better flavor profile! Local is also better for the environment because it doesn’t have to be transported as far. If you are trying to budget and don’t want to buy everything organic, start with the EWG’s dirty dozen list, as these are the most sprayed conventional items.

clean 15 grocery guide reading labels tips
grocery guide reading labels tips

Reading Labels Guide

Overall, the less ingredients on something the better. The longer the list, the more likely it will have some sneaky stuff in there that isn’t natural. The more refined something is, the more likely it is processed and denatured. I’ll start by listing the heavy hitters first.

What to avoid:


Food coloring is known to have neurobehavioral effects in children. Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 – contain the known carcinogen benzidine.


Natural or Artificial Flavor can be the name for a number of different things when it shows up on an ingredients list. This means a potential chemical or allergen may not be disclosed. A big one to look for is MSG or “mono sodium glutamate”.


Preservatives such as sulfites, nitrates, benzoates, etc. may lead to allergy or asthma symptoms, hyperactivity, neurological symptoms, or even cancer. They can be used in food, pharmaceuticals, or cosmetics.


Triclosan can still found in toothpaste, hand sanitizer, surgical soaps, and mouthwash and is known to have adverse health effects.


Emulsifiers are added to foods to keep them mixed and stablizied. Emulsifiers like propylene glycol (PPG), carageenan, polysorbate 80, carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), polyethylene Glycol (PEG), lecithin, xanthan gum, and guar gum are typically added in small amounts but are also known to disrupt digestion by causing inflammation leading to leaky gut.


Dairy, grains, breads, juice, and table salts are all known to have synthetic vitamins and minerals added which can disrupt the natural mineral balance in our bodies. Its best to get these nutrients from naturally occurring sources in whole foods as they will be complete with co-factors. Some added synthetic vitamins and minerals to look out for are: niacin, reduced iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, vitamin D, vitamin A, and iodized salt. If these are listed out in the ingredients section of the label they are NOT naturally occurring!

Additional Tips:

Download the full foods list here


Overall, just remember to eat whole foods, organic when possible, and avoid processed refined foods and oils. The closer to the way nature intended the better. Switch things up by eating a variety of different things. 

Keep cooking fun and don’t over think it! No one is a perfect eater. Remember stressing over what you eat is not healthy. HOW you eat is just as important as WHAT you eat. 

Also, any small change in the right direction is still the right direction!


Joanna Bosman Allen

About the author
Joanna is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner on a mission to unravel the complexities of holistic well-being. With a personal journey as the driving force, she embarked on the path of Nutritional Therapy, uncovering the profound interplay between nutrition, lifestyle, and mindset. Frustrated with the gaps in mainstream and functional approaches, Joanna delved into diverse diets and health strategies, only to find herself feeling worse. Having had enough, she committed to rediscovering balance and understanding the core of her struggles. Opting for nourishment over restriction, she guides clients with a food-first holistic approach, aiding them in reclaiming balance within their bodies.

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