28/06/2015 8:36 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

4 Simple Ways To Make Good Food Choices


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With all the media brouhaha these days about processed food, MSG, genetically modified crops and more, a lot of us are in a state of mild panic. Despite this few of us take the time to understand what food is all about to our body and mind.

To begin with, there is a ton of misinformation out there - both on nutritional labels and in the media. Take glutamate for example. There is much more to it than the much-reviled MSG.

Here's the lowdown: The proteins we eat are broken down into amino acids. Glutamic acid is one such amino acid, derived from proteins. In fact, glutamine is the most abundant amino acid present in the body. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) on the other hand is the sodium salt of free glutamic acid and provides a flavour function that occurs naturally in food.

Free glutamate is also found in some of the foods we encounter every day such as cheese, mushrooms, milk, tomatoes, potatoes, eggs and chicken, amongst others. The following may also contain MSG natural flavours or seasonings: natural beef or chicken flavouring, hydrolysed milk or plant protein, textured protein, seasonings, soy sauce, bouillon, broth spices. And for all the bad press MSG has generated, the jury is still out. For a detailed analysis, read this excellent piece in The Guardian.

In the end, processed food will always contain mysterious sounding elements and chemicals that may or may not do you harm. So, what kind of choices will allow you to confidently eat what's on your plate? Here are four golden rules worth following.

Eat fresh and local

The easiest way to stay on track is to keep things simple. Pick up fresh, local fare from your neighbourhood shop. This way, you can help the local ecosystem too. Be creative in how you use these ingredients and you'll never be bored of them. There are plenty of recipes on the Internet, including my website Archana's Kitchen (my website). Go ahead and plan your weekly menu and start cooking.

Understand what your body needs

What you need for your body and mind cannot be determined by fads or diets. Every few years our body requirements change because of various age, lifestyle and hormonal factors. If you are personally unable to find out what your body needs, a good way is to consult with a nutritionist who also has a fitness expert. Food may be a key to stay healthy and fit, but exercise and a lifestyle change are what make a holistic difference.

Know facts about foods

As much as I would like to stress that you should eat local and fresh, there are times where we have to pick up products off the shelf. And here is where knowledge can go a long way. Reading (and understanding!) the nutrition label helps you determine what's in the packet and in what quantities. The most important information to have when making a healthy choice is to find out how much total fat and saturated fat the food has. This is important because fats can contribute to an increase in your "bad cholesterol."

As much as possible I would stay away from something that has excess saturated fats and way too many chemical names that I can't understand. If you can't pronounce it then you must do your reading. Start here to get a better understanding of how to decode nutritional labelling.

Make informed choices

Understanding what you body needs in terms of nutrition, your fitness and diet are all in your hands. And living a healthy and a fit life can't get easier in today's world. We have access to quality nutritionists, fitness experts, gyms, local and fresh produce delivered to our doorsteps, and an Internet full of reliable medical guidelines and recipes. In all of them, all that is required is to maintain a balance and that balance is all up to you. To maintain the right balance is up to you. You know your body and mind better than I do.