Avoiding food in wrappers, bags, cartons, cans and bottles is a Paleo diet-101 basic, right? The answer is yes—to a degree. If you’re living off the grid, growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs, catching your own fish and hunting for meat, you may be able to avoid packaged foods easily. If you’re like most people, though, living in modern-day society requires that some items come from the store. How can you be sure you're making the best selections? Learn to read food labels!
Whether it’s a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil or a pouch of pink Alaskan salmon, it’s important to know what to look for in the Nutrition Facts and ingredients lists on product labels. Here are some tips to help you stick with the Paleo Diet philosophy when shopping for food at the supermarket:
1. Avoid purchasing products you cannot identify as food.
Years ago, a renowned nutritionist said in an interview: “Do you really want to eat something that starts with an X and ends with an 80?” When deciding on any food item, think about what you want to put in your body (or your kids’ bodies!). If you don’t know what it is or can’t recognize it as an ingredient, don’t eat it!
2. Skip food products with too much sugar.
Sugar is hidden everywhere, including in places we might not expect, such as salad dressings, canned vegetables and even dog treats! An estimated 74 percent of all packaged food contains added sugar. How many grams are too many? Looking at this one marker is not enough to determine whether or not something is good choice. We have to consider not only added sugar, but net glycemic load of a meal. This is a number that estimates how much all the food in an entire meal will raise a person's blood glucose level after eating it. Stay on the safe side and if you see sugar on a label, avoid the product.
3. Steer clear of additives and preservatives you can’t identify.
You may be aware that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is commonly used as a flavor enhancer, or that sodium nitrate is used to cure meat. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re OK to eat! Many food preservatives contain excessive amounts of sodium and have a correlation to mild or serious illnesses, including cancer.
4. Focus on a short list.
One popular snack bar on the market contains two ingredients, and they’re both real food: dried fruit and nuts! Whether a label lists two ingredients or five, the smaller the list the better!
5. Go for balance and big picture.
We’re not always in a situation where we can access the best choices. One perfect example is canned tuna. Eaten too often, one would likely ingest too much mercury, too much sodium and possibly other unfavorable ingredients. But if you’re on a road trip and stop at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere, and your only other option besides the small can of tuna as a protein option is a hot dog on a conveyor belt, it’s easy to see the better option.
In the broad scheme of things, a single can of tuna or salt-laden veggies you might eat now and then won’t make a dent if your overall regimen is fresh, local and seasonal.
 @sugarscience. "Hidden in Plain Sight." SugarScience.org. N.p., 09 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Sept. 2016
 "The Link between Sodium Nitrites and Cancer." Cancer Treatment Centers & Hospitals. N.p., 31 May 2013. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.