Healthy Grocery Shopping Tips : Reading Ingredient Labels

Pickles Ingredients

Recently, my husband and I were at Kroger getting a few groceries for the weekend. My plan was to make homemade hamburgers for dinner that night. I knew we were out of pickles, so I headed over to that aisle to see what I could find. I picked up a jar of Mt. Olive pickles, which is a brand that I used to buy. Back then, I didn’t really even think to read the label. Not that I would’ve known what some of the ingredients were or why they are bad. Honestly, even though I know it’s important to check now, there are still times where I totally forget.

Ingredients in their dill pickle slices:

Cucumbers, water, vinegar, Calcium Chloride, 0.1% Sodium Benzoate (preservative), Alum, Natural Flavors, Polysorbate 80, Yellow 5.

This would be one of the same yellow food dyes that Kraft removed from their Mac and Cheese not too long ago. A study showed that Yellow 5 (as well as Sodium Benzoate) can cause hyperactivity in some children. Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are possibly contaminated with known carcinogens.

So, why is it in a jar of pickles, you may ask? The purpose of it being there is strictly for aesthetic purposes. That’s it.

Natural Flavor is one of the most common ingredients found on food labels. It sounds better to consumers than artificial. However, natural flavors can sometimes be just as bad as artificial.

Added flavoring, both natural and artificial, could contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients. And all of the extra ingredients in flavors often aren’t as innocent as you’d hope they would be. “The mixture will often have some solvent and preservatives — and that makes up 80 to 90 percent of the volume [of the flavoring]. In the end product, it’s a small amount, but it still has artificial ingredients,”


Polysorbate 80 is used a dispersing and solubilizing agent in pickles and pickle products and is deemed safe by the FDA in limited amounts. It’s also used in skin care products.

As I was about to hit publish on this post, I decided to do a little more searching online. I found on the Mt. Olive pickle website that they do apparently now have some new products that contain no artificial flavors or certified food color additives. I haven’t seen these in person and can’t find an ingredient list online yet, so I don’t know what they replaced them with.

Okay, moving on to another jar of pickles. Claussen. Used to be one of my favorite pickles. So crisp and delicious! They’re refrigerated, so they must have better ingredients, right? Not so fast. I couldn’t get the ingredients to show up on the Kraft website, but I do remember high fructose corn syrup being one of the ingredients. I remember because I asked my husband, why on earth would you put high fructose corn syrup in dill pickles?!

Anyway, I gave up searching on the pickle row. I headed over to the Organic section of the store to see if they had any brand of organic pickles. There was only one option. Woodstock baby dill pickles.


Organic cucumbers, water, organic distilled vinegar, salt, calcium chloride, organic garlic chips, organic dillweed oil, organic gum arabic, organic natural spice flavors, xanthan gum.

Okay, that’s a little better. I knew this brand and have purchased several of their other products. Since we really didn’t want to have to make another stop, I decided that these would work. While doing some research online for this post, I noticed that Food Babe had listed the Woodstock brand as an better alternative store-bought brand of pickles.

My point is that we really have to be diligent about reading ingredient labels. Don’t be fooled by the health claims on the front of the label. “Made with Sea Salt” doesn’t mean much if it still contains have artificial food dyes. Just because it says it’s organic, doesn’t mean that you don’t need to find out what’s in it.

You might try researching products online before you go to the store. Many food producers list the ingredients of their products on their company website. Whether you are feeding just you and your spouse or a whole family, it’s very important to read the labels.

I realize that homemade condiments are the absolute best option, but I also know that it’s not always realistic for people to make all of their own. Even without kids, I don’t feel like making my own ketchup, mayo or mustard. Can’t imagine doing it while managing a house full of young children. We don’t consume a ton of those items, so I’m good with a store-bought item that has a good ingredient list.

The Real Pickles brand that I found while searching online has an impressive ingredient list:

Cucumbers*, filtered water, unrefined sea salt (rich in trace minerals), dill*, garlic*, black pepper, chile pepper, fennel seed, bay leaf, cinnamon.

Unfortunately, it’s only available in stores up in the Northeast and online.

A store-bought brand of dill relish that I have used and recommend is Bubbies. They also sell pickles and a few other products like sauerkraut. They are not organic, but it is certified non-gmo. Locally, I can find their products at Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, Sprouts and Market Street.

I will probably get around to making my own pickles someday. I do have a recipe for Pickled Jalapenos and Carrots here on the blog. It’s super easy and so much tastier than store-bought!

This is a different kind of post for the blog, and I could use your feedback.

A. Do you like and find these kinds of posts helpful?
B. Would you like to see more occasional posts of this type?

By at .


Tempie is a stay-at-home wife with a passion for running. She writes about all aspects of healthy living from fitness to nutritious recipes. Subscribe to the feed for updates and follow Tempie on Twitter and Facebook.

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