Four lines

When I went to the running injury prevention talk last Friday night,the panelists spent about an hour taking questions from the many audience members. Questions ran the gamut and the guys all pitched in to answer. One was on nutrition, and the advice the panelists offered was of course to keep it simple–if you can’t hunt it or pick it from the ground, you should probably stay away from it.

One of the panelists suggested that, when you read a label, if it has an ingredient list longer than four lines, it’s not food. I liked that idea and decided that I’d look over how I eat from day to day. For the most part, I pretty much follow that four line rule. But I have two glaring exceptions: One is my bread. It’s whole wheat potato bread with no hydrogenated oils, etc. My kids like it (I’ve never fed them white bread), so it’s been our go-to. But–it has several lines of ingredients. Not sure what to do about this, but I think it’s time to look around for a new bread. Any suggestions?

The other exception is my cereal. I eat my share of oatmeal, to which I add some milk and a spoonful of almond butter. But I also like whole grain cereals. I’ve always shot for one with five grams or more of fiber and a low sugar count. But a look at the label reveals that it also has too many ingredients. I’m not sure I want to give my cereal up, I’ll admit! This is one I’m going to have to think on. What would/do you do?

Finally–last days to enter my $75 nutrition giveaway from Pacific Health. Don’t miss out!

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  1. canyoncairns says

    I love that cereal! I'd say it counts.. most of the excess ingredient lineage is due to explanation & alternative names. :) Sometimes ingredient lists indicate every item that's organic with a label in front of it which makes it a lot longer.

    I prefer to judge by my recognition of ingredients rather than the number.

  2. Denise says

    while i don't think that serving of cereal is going to kill you, there are some other options but they taste like twigs. just think, if the ceral box was bigger, all thoese ingredients might only take up 2 lines.

  3. Kate says

    This is a tough one. I like the idea of not eating food containing all sorts of crap. Like the ingredient lists with things I can't even pronounce. But, what about the foods that contain a long list of things I do recognize? Hmm. I think your cereal and bread seem fine, but that's just me. :) After all I dont know what Tocopherols are.

  4. Kovas says

    Is there a standardized food label? Then this would make sense, otherwise what's to stop a company from making a LONG label with only 2 lines?

  5. Paul says

    The "four lines" rule sounds kind of over simplified.

    @Kovas has a good point as do everyone else.

    The ingredients look on on the bread.

    How many bad ingredients can shredded oats have ?

  6. Jess @ Blonde Ponytail says

    This seems like a good rule of thumb–especially with names that are hard to pronounce!

    Your cereal seems like great choice though! I used to only look at cals and fat, but sugar is a biggie with me now.

  7. Bill and Debra says

    I don't eat cereal, so no loss there for me…but I do like different kinds of breads. I guess we can't keep everything simple.

  8. Aimee says

    I like that 4 line rule, but I also think you have to make exceptions. If you look at the ingredients on that cereal, there is nothing "bad" in the list. It's pretty much made up of natural ingredients…so I think it's fine! Plus, to me, it's all amount moderation. But even with that, your cereal is sooo much better than most of the ones that are out there! Don't give it up!

  9. amy says

    My rule is not based on length but on ability to pronounce and wholesomeness of ingredients (i.e. not chemically produced). More often than not, that yields 4 lines or less, but not always. I'd probably find an alternative, just because of the Tocopherols as I believe it's an additive even though it's only used for freshness. Trader Joe's has some awesome cereal options that have nothing added and don't taste like twigs!

  10. Running and living says

    We bake our own bread, OK my husband does it. I timed him and it typically takes me 4.5 minutes to make a loaf. We do french bread for special occasions and 1/2 wheat 1/2 white flour the rest of the time. Bread is the only processed food we eat, so it is nice to make one that has only the flour processed. Oh, and the ingredients are flour, agave syrup, and yeast.

  11. Laura says

    I love cereal, and I like that rule, sometimes you have to make exceptions to rules and if you're eating well most of the time I don't think cereal will hurt a bit!

  12. Marlene says

    Yikes – I'm sure a lot of my go-to's have more than 4 lines of ingredients. This could be an eye opener. Thanks for the tip!

  13. Emz says

    this food thing is giving me fits.

    one week I swear off dairy – the next I think I should go "gluten free"….but by week two I feel like I have zero energy….so I go right back to eating high fiber cereal.?!

    I love the cardboard tasting fiberOne cereal. 😉

  14. Happy Feet 26.2 says

    Such a great topic. I have been looking at ingredients for a while now. Sometimes, I admit, I just look and then buy anyway. I need to do so much better. I don't have a good recommendation for cereal, but I have mostly switched to LaraBars for that very reason. most have 3-4 ingredients, you can read all of the ingredients, and all natural. I like that!

  15. Joanne says

    As long as your diet is healthy most of the time, your doing a great job. Usually, if we eat clean diets then stray off the right path, we don't feel that great. Our bodies are used to it. So your body will let you know if you've put something in it that isn't quite right for your diet.
    As for that cereal, it all looks good to me. I might be wrong but it looks like all natural, whole food ingredients.

  16. Amanda - RunToTheFinish says

    I truly do love that idea…yes I would say bread and then of course cookies are probably the main things any more I eat that are processed. Minus the random chip here or there

  17. Pat says

    Not to be a smart a@#, but sugar has just one ingredient in it, so if you stricly went by the 4 line rule, it would be okay to eat pure sugar. What I really mean here, is that all rules have some latitude. The idea to eat relatively simply, relatively natural foods is a great one and I think you're doing great.

  18. Teamarcia says

    I think your cereal looks fine. As long as sugar fat and sodium are low, there's nothing artificial or hydrogenated, and fiber is high, I am happy. Protein is always a plus too.

  19. marathonmaiden says

    i say eat it. i try to go for the 4 line rule but like others are saying, you're eating by 4 lines at other times and all rules have lee-way. plus some of the ingredients have parenthesis which makes it longer

  20. Jennifer says

    I stick with what I like. Luckily for me it usually is a clear set of ingredients. Instead I go for the 10 letter minimum. Any ingredient with a name of 10 letters or more usually draws deeper examination! Of course "lead" only has four letters, so no rule is absolute!

  21. Jason says

    Eat it. That list for the cereal is fine. Nothing on there that says maltosoycarbonatedrefriedofhydrogenated calves livers preserved with liquid nitrogen.

    As for bread I tried brown rice bread the other day and it is great for grilled cheeses or french toast but it is hard. How about switching to tortillas? Is that feasible?

    As for the 4 line rule….not buying it. If it was printed on a small box and had the following items would you buy it?

    Whole Grains, Whole Oats,
    Water, Ground Flaxseed, Wheat
    Germs, Agave Nectar, Dried
    Apples, Dried Cherries, Peanuts,
    Almonds, Dark Chocolate Chips

    That all sounds great right there and it's 5 lines.

  22. Lesley @ says

    I'm with most others. 4 lines as a general rule of thumb, but if its all good stuff. That cereal looks like a good ingredient list… and weren't the extra lines added vitamins???

    As for bread… not sure how many lines is on my Orrowheat, but I love the whole grains and no high fructose corn syrup.

  23. Momma K and her Krew says

    Yeah so here's the thing: the four line rule is great in theory but life isnt that simple. Ohh MAN! I wish it were. But if you look at the list and its good stuff, not just frankencrap, then go forth and EAT. I mean if something has 9 different types of berries and wheat flour and some other good mojo it would be far past the 4 line rule, but still good for your guts. So I like it as a general idea, but you still just need to read it and make the best choice you can at the time.

  24. Terri says

    I agree with the what seems to be the consensus here – if it has more than four ingredients, but every one of those is something whole and good, then why ditch it? Now, if the ingredients are flavoring chemicals, or artificial sweeteners or colors, then the advice to toss it is probably good. But I like an organic seven-grain cereal – it would be silly to ditch that because it has more than four ingredients, wouldn't it? In other words, don't check your brain at the door! :) But I know you already know that!

  25. Holly says

    To every rule there is an except. Your cereal sounds great. I mean you can read and understand every ingredient. So I think you should stick with that.

    As far as bread, it's going to be more difficult because of the preserves in bread. The only options I see are making your own or trying that Ezekiel bread that is frozen. I don't really know of any others that have few ingredients. They need some preserves or else the bread will go bad in 3 days.

  26. Jim ... 50after40 says

    I'm guilty of just looking at the nutritional value to make sure it has "the amount" of what I want. But that is obviously misleading.

  27. Gracie (Complicated Day) says

    I read the bread list, it looks wholesome to me. In fact I'm impressed; it's hard to find bread with so few additives.

  28. ShutUpandRun says

    I personally wouldn't count lines but would look at the quality of ingredients. If you can pronounce them all, you're good.

  29. Char says

    I think there should be some exceptions to that 4 ingredient rule. My breakfast muesli has heaps of ingredients but we're talking good, natural stuff like oats and nuts and fruit.

  30. Allison says

    Very interesting! I will definitely be reviewing everything in my pantry tonight. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that a fair amount of it will fail this test.

  31. Dash says

    I just joined MyPlate and I am too afraid to look at the lines. With the nutritional breakdown on MyPlate, I've noticed for someone who doesn't put salt on anything, I consume a lot of naturally salty things. I'm really trying to watch that now!