It continues to astound me how many people buy products every day and never read the labels. Whether it's food, soap, vitamins, clothing, or something else - it's important for your health that you know what you're buying.
If you buy any food in plastic, a box, or a bag (which I don't recommend), please read the label and at least check for things like "high fructose corn syrup," "hydrogenated oil," or anything with "nitrate" in it. These are very harmful to the body and should be avoided.
Also, check the sugar content. You'll be surprised how many grams of sugar you're eating per day because they add up in all those "non-sweet" products that actually contain sugar (or other unhealthy sweeteners).
Even products that say "all natural" aren't always what they claim. Read the ingredient list and see just how "natural" it is.
Produce and meat also have important information on the label - Is it organic? What country did it come from? What is the "best by..." date? Watch out for meat that may say "all natural" and was fed a "vegetarian" diet. We recently bought some beef with these claims. Turns out the "vegetarian" diet was a form of soy feed...not good. Cows should eat grass, not soy products. And I don't want to eat soy, by itself or in my meat.
Personal care products -
Whatever you put on your skin is absorbed into your body, basically like if you ate it, only worse since it goes right into the bloodstream. So if you wouldn't eat the product, definitely don't put it on your skin.
Shampoo, soap, even toothpaste, can all contain toxic ingredients. Watch out especially for anything that ends in "...paraben". These are hormone disruptors. Most personal care products are just toxic soups. It's better to shop for natural or organic products. Though remember that even in a health food store, not all the products sold are truly healthy. Read the ingredients and if in doubt, don't buy it.
If you're looking for natural and organic personal care products, I recommend Karen's Naturals.
A lot of vitamin brands have very poor regulation. So you can't be sure of the content, amounts of the vitamins, or the variety of unhealthy "fillers" that were used. Along with reading labels, my best advice is don't buy vitamins at a discount store. Find a reputable brand and always read the ingredients.
Check to see if the product is free of "corn, soy, wheat, sugar, dairy, yeast," etc. Based on what your allergies or sensitivities are, you might have to search a little to find a brand that meets your needs. Remember that just because it's a "vitamin" or supplement, does not mean it's automatically healthy.
I try to only buy 100% cotton clothing (occasionally I buy something with 2% spandex, since it's hard to find jeans without any spandex).
Fabrics like polyester, rayon, and nylon are made from chemicals (mostly petroleum based). These are not natural or healthy for the body. Remember that what you wear touches your body all day long, and your skin easily absorbs chemicals and toxins from synthetic clothing.
Try to stick with clothes made from natural fibers, mainly cotton (wool and silk are also natural, but some people are allergic to them).
These are just a few of the products people buy every day. I encourage you to get in the habit of reading labels on everything. I realize that you can't necessarily change all your buying habits, but at least be aware of what you are putting in/on your body. Do the best you can to make smart choices for your health.
Here are a few more general guidelines on reading labels:
1) If the label says "made in China" - put it back on the store shelf. Products made in China contain high levels of toxins, chemicals, and metals. If you keep looking, you can almost always find what you need made somewhere else.
(Note - Personally, I also won't buy clothing made in India or Indonesia, as much of their cotton is genetically modified, meaning it contains pesticide. I've had reactions to clothing made in these countries, so I avoid them as well.)
2) If you can't pronounce some of the ingredients, don't buy the product.
3) Generally speaking, the more ingredients contained in a product, the more toxic and unhealthy it is.
4) Always check for warnings and err on the side of caution. If a product warning says something like 'contact a doctor if swallowed,' then you probably shouldn't even have it in your house.
I hope this helps you be more informed and prepared to read those labels and protect your health.