If you research “how to be healthy”, you will come across advice on everything from diet and exercise to the latest medical treatment promising increased vitality and youth. There are many examples of what some consider a healthy eating plan, but they are focused on the “healthier” choices the author thinks makes up an ideal diet. This article’s focus is on helping you choose the best quality of food you can.

Seek Unprocessed and All Natural

A conversation about food quality has to start with food in its natural state. That means you should avoid processing as much as you are able, but you also need to be realistic. If you don’t have a personal chef shopping and designing meals for you, this can become frustrating very fast. We are all busy people juggling the responsibilities of work, family, and whatever life has decided to throw our way. That means you need to be kind and patient with yourself. You should always strive for the ideal, but be sensible when it just isn’t possible and try again next time.

What About Cooking

Processing occurs in many forms. Cooking is a form of processing. In many cases, cooking food tends to destroy their micronutrients and enzymes depending on the method used, but it can also allow you to make some foods more digestible while reducing the likelihood of a food-borne illness. When it comes to most produce, we recommend eating mostly raw or just lightly cooked to the point when the colors be come vibrant. If your vegetables are squishy and a shade of grey, it is likely they have been over cooked.

When Perishable Becomes Non-perishable

There are many other forms of processing more concerning than cooking. By staying to the perimeter of the grocery store, you will focus on foods that have shorter shelf life (perishables). This is an indicator of processing. Foods that would ordinarily rot and go bad undergo various procedures to make them shelf-stable (non-perishable). Food must be heated, dried, or use chemicals to prevent them from spoiling. They are then sealed in an airtight container, packaged, and dated for “freshness”. Freezing is one of the better methods of food preservation. It does result in the inactivation of some enzymes, but it also tends to preserve the greatest amount of nutrients.

Eat Local and In Season

Food preservation is ultimately a topic about freshness and the consumption of living food. The best situation would be if you could go to your yard and pick an apple from your tree. It would be free of pesticides, herbicides, and the wax that slows it from rotting. Before we get into the discussion about organic vs. non-organic we need to think about eating local. You can’t get more local then your property, but unless you have the time and knowledge to grow a garden you will be relying on farmers and the supply chain. Local means just that. The goal is to select produce that was grown as close to you as possible resulting in fruits and vegetables with higher nutritional value, grown in season, more fresh with a smaller carbon foot print. What a great excuse to check out a farmer’s market in your area.

What About Organic

Organic vs convention farming is a topic of great debate much of which is a result of invested parties. First, you need to know the answer to, “What is organic?” There is a difference between “Certified Organic” and “Organically Grown”. Certified means it meets or exceeds the federal guidelines. Organic on the other hand, is classified as “relying on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible”. Before produce can be called organic, it has to be grown in soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest.

Organic Standards Are Changing

Unfortunately, the definition of organic farming changes as the years go by allowing more “less natural” substances to be used. Still, one of the greatest benefits of organic vs conventional food is the avoidance of most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The benefits of organic food may go beyond the chemicals used in growth and storage. More research is needed, but some studies suggest organic food may be better for the environmental and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check out our infographic for basic guidance to select the best produce available to you.

Use this image as a quick reference when making food choices