If you’ve ever thought about living a healthier lifestyle, you’ve probably come across the term “eating clean.”

But, do you really know how to eat clean, or would a guide to reading product labels help you out when it comes to those mystery ingredients on the back of a can? While I have successfully extended my growing season into colder months, even I can’t combat the snowy winters of Wisconsin. So now that I’m headed back to the grocery store for fresh produce (just for a month or two!), I thought it would be a good time to address the marketing and labeling of our food.

Food is a big business, and that means you might have to do a little extra work and reading between the lines to find the healthiest options for you and your family. This was a huge transition for me as I started on my eating clean health journey. I felt sick for years with inflammation and allergic reactions and I knew I needed to make a real effort to clean up my lifestyle in order to start feeling like I could take on the world (instead of feeling like I’d been run over by a truck.) I credit Food Babe and Food Matters TV for opening my eyes to to the world of eating clean. Those same sources exposed me to the world of tactics used to bury harmful ingredients in our food and cosmetics for the first time, too.

I would have never made it this far in my health journey without prioritizing eating clean.

But it’s hard to make healthier choices when food labeling is so hard to understand. Regardless of which grocery store you prefer, when you can’t buy from a local farmer or grower, you enter into a world of sneaky wording and tricky marketing.

Today, we as consumers want to know more about how our food is produced and grown. We are increasingly demanding better food quality, higher welfare standards for workers, and increased environmental consciousness in the process. 

Before we dive in, I want to touch base and say: this is not meant to overwhelm you! I just want to increase your knowledge and awareness, even though it is quite frankly kinda overwhelming!  If you realize you need to overhaul your pantry or your toiletry cabinet, start with baby steps so you don’t feel like you have to throw your whole house away in one go. It’s frustrating and time-consuming to have to dig deep into what you’re putting into your body. But I promise, if you get serious about what you’re putting in your body, you will see positive changes in your lifestyle. 

How to Spot Greenwashing in Toiletries

Greenwashing is when a company makes its product appear more environmentally friendly or healthier than it really is. Companies have a big leeway for claims they’re allowed to advertise on product labels, and they often purposefully try to confuse consumers. So if you pick up a bottle of shampoo that says “100% natural” or “eco-friendly,” take a hard look at the ingredient list and scan the bottle for real stamps, certifications and labels that prove those claims.

Avoid Health-Washing When Eating Clean

Health-washing is when a company adds synthetic and processed additives to make food appear more nutrient dense than it actually is. Food companies use clever labels to target people like you and me who read labels and care about their health, and are trying to make the best decisions possible. For example: a food label will appear to be chock full of vitamins and minerals, but they are synthetic. 

What Does it Mean if a Product is Labeled Organic?

When it comes to pre-packaged foods, even if a product is labeled “organic,” that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. While I do buy organic produce, and I always watch the Dirty Dozen list when I have to purchase fresh produce, I’m aware that some chemicals can still be applied under USDA standards. It is always the best option to grow your own organic produce, or support your local organic farmers.

Also, organic DOES NOT mean pasture-raised or free-range!

Humane Farming Practices

Pasture-raised – ​​Pasture-raised means an animal was raised on pasture (rather than in a pen or cage). But, less than 1% of farm animals are raised on pasture for their whole lives.Labels that really mean animals are pasture-raised are: 

  • Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW
  • Certified Grassfed by AGW
  • Certified Non-GMO by AGW 
  • Certified Regenerative by AGW.

Farm-raised  – This term may bring up an idyllic image of Old McDonald, but beware: not all farms are created equal. Besides growing your own produce, the best way to know your food is grown and raised with healthy humane practices is by getting to know your local farmers!

Free-range – This doesn’t mean the animals are free-range for their entire lives.  Some are free-range for a short period and then back into less-than-desirable conditions.  Just think, when the conditions we live in and the food we eat is unhealthy, we’re unhealthy. Just like some of these farm animals.

Animals raised humanely on pasture have the ability to produce meat, dairy, and eggs that are healthier for us. When animals graze on all of nature’s grasses, flowers, and bugs, the variety of life in healthy pastures is reflected in the food chain, and those benefits rise up for us to reap. Food is my fuel, my medicine, and a source of enjoyment. I eat clean because I want the highest quality products going into my diet to fuel my life.


We see this “Non-genetically modified food” label everywhere! I even saw it on salt the other day and I had to chuckle to myself. Who is genetically modifying salt anyway?! But that’s the marketing industry for you. . . There are studies linking GMOs to health conditions that can disrupt our gut. GMOs often lead to an increase in herbicides on these crops and unfortunately, wheat, soy and corn are all hidden in so many of our foods.   

GF “Gluten Free”

Well, I remember when the GF fad diets really hit the market. For those with a gluten intolerance or Celiac, it’s great that there is a standard GF label. For those hopping on the keto-bandwagon however, GF does NOT mean that the food is automatically healthier. Many GF foods are full of chemicals and fake ingredients.  Buyer beware here!  

So, are you confused by all these labels when eating clean?

Well this is where I tell you the best bet is to grow a little of your own. Buy local, and support your local farmers working so hard to make a living while providing a high-quality product.  

If those options aren’t available to you, I am a big consumer of Thrive Market throughout the year for those household items and pantry staples I can’t grow. If you don’t have a farmer or a coop or a “green grocer” nearby, Thrive Market could be a great resource for you. But, I really think you should grow your own! Not confident that you have what it takes? I’ve coached many beginner gardeners, some of whom are now providing fresh produce for their whole family all summer long. I know you can do it; let’s get started today!

Tomatoes, squash, pears, peppers, and other fresh picked garden vegetables for eating clean on an outdoor picnic table.