Food Quality Standards

I take a lot of care with the food that I put into my body. You are what you eat. When I say the word "healthy," I don't really mean the popular version of healthy - low fat, low calorie, etc. I mean nutritious and wholesome, minimally processed and tasteful. Here's my general guide as to how I grocery shop!

Quite Simply: All Natural
When you see "Natural" on a label of a product at a supermarket, it doesn't really mean anything. Pretty much anything can be lumped under the category of "Natural," since almost everything has at least one part that is derived from a natural product. However, all natural really does mean something to me, and I employ this in my food choices. The further standards will more specifically explain this overall requirement.

As Few Genetically Modified Organisms as Possible
Genetically modified food scares me. I am afraid of it for a variety of reasons relating not only to my personal health, but to the environment, the effect on Mother Earth and on other plants that are not genetically modified, and future of the human race and the Earth. While I do like science, I am not all that big on scientifically created things when there is a completely natural counterpart. Why do I want a scientifically created piece of zucchini when I can get one that was made the way zucchini has been made for who-knows-how-long zucchini has been on this planet? I do not for one second buy into arguments that GMOs have helped to feed starving people and/or helped farmers create more profit. Companies that make genetically modified foods are chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Do you want to eat corn that was created by a chemical company?

Further Reading: 
Arguments against GMOs published by the United States Food and Agriculture Organization
The Non-GMO Project - this project is an independent organization working to help consumer make informed choices when it comes to genetically modified products. After testing, a product can have their label on the package to assure consumers that there are no genetically modified ingredients.
WikiHow: How to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods
Say No To GMOs! This website has been going since 2002. Various articles and resources as to the many effects of genetically modified foods.

Mostly organic. Especially produce.
For one reason, items that are labeled as "organic" are not allowed to contain genetically modified ingredients. Eating organic is a good way to avoid GMOs.

My quest to avoid consuming synthetic chemicals starts with eating organic produce.I also try to buy other items that are organic, such as packaged and processed items: pasta, yogurt, anything canned (tomatoes, artichokes, etc), seasonings, breads... all of these items or the ingredients used to make them could possibly have been sprayed with harmful synthetic chemicals, or they could have been made with genetically modified ingredients. Organic is the only way to avoid this.

I cannot eat organic all the time - especially if I eat at someone else's home, at a restaurant, or my grocery money is tight that week. But doing so most of the time is a big help.

Further Reading:
Wikipedia about Organics
Ten Reasons to Buy Organic by CCOF, the California Certified Organic Farmers
Find an organic farm in your area

No Artificial Colors, Flavors or Preservatives
(and sometimes, "natural flavors")

Artificial colors are all those color-number ingredients: Red 2, Blue Lake 12, Yellow 5 ... etc

"Artificial flavors" are simply that - and since the name of them is so broad, who knows what the heck it is. And honestly, "natural flavors" aren't all that much better. They're usually extracted from a natural product, but they're just that - extracted - and processed - and if they were really all that natural and not suspicious, it would just say what it is. If it's flavored with a fruit juice, why not just say it on the label? Anything in this broad category of "flavors" eerks me a bit.

Preservatives... now this is a tough one. Some things are good, natural, less harmful preservatives, like vinegar and salt and the canning process and such. Other preservatives are "natural" and are allowed in organic products.

To avoid preservatives, I eat fresh. To prepare for when fresh isn't as readily available, I freeze my homemade sauces, stocks, vegetables and fruits

Further Reading:
How do artificial flavors work? 
Why McDonald's Fries Taste So Good Excerpt from Fast Food Nation talking about natural and artificial flavors
Flavor Article from Wikipedia, shows some of the chemicals used in food to create flavors
Food preservation article from Wikipedia, detailing various natural and artificial preservation methods and the chemicals used

List of ingredients to avoid

Here is a list of food ingredients I avoid - a practice in the grocery store called label reading. It's easier in some stores than it is in others.
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • "artificial flavors"
  • artificial colors: yellow 5, blue lake 3, etcetecetcetcetc
  • artificial sweeteners: acesulfame-k, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, sorbitol...
  • sodium benzoate (preservative)
  • hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils
  • sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite (preservatives)
9 Foods to Avoid and Why