Healthy eating is not about avoiding certain kinds of food. Here is how it can be done.

You are what you eat! What you make of yourself will be determined by what you eat, quite simply because life cannot be sustained without food. Paradoxically, we indulge more in excessively processed foods. Deep-fried oily snacks are our favourite delicacies, sugary colas are style statements, cheese-laden pizzas and burgers are pastimes, chocolates, ice creams and pastries are our cheesy delights and deep-fried snacks are our companions during TV hours or while video gaming.

No doubt, taste is a major draw, but don't blame it all on food alone; often our dietary habits are at fault. In many cases the daily diet comprises a larger proportion of snacks rather than sit-down meals. Though snacks give us a feeling of satiety or fullness, we end up consuming more total energy, fat, added sugars as well as salts. Such faulty dietary choices coupled with physical inactivity make us susceptible to obesity. Once on the wrong side of the weighing scale, we tend to invite other health troubles. Calorie-rich foods lead to fat deposits and weight gain that, in turn, lead to diabetes and clogging of arteries. High intake of salts leaves the blood pressure soaring and aerated beverages may damage teeth and affect bones.

Now, what is healthy eating? It is certainly not about strict dietary practices, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it is about keeping yourself as healthy as possible. The answer is quite simple and time-tested. It is a combination of variety, balance and moderation. Here is how it can be achieved.

Eat a variety of foods: You need a variety of nutrients for a healthy body. No one food can provide you with all. Cereals, nuts and oils will give you energy-rich carbohydrates. Pulses, milk, poultry, flesh foods and fish are body-building foods that contain abundant protein. Fruits and vegetables can protect you from an onslaught of diseases.

Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables daily: Fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense and also low in calories. They are power-packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. All seasonal fruits, vegetables and leafy vegetables should be part of every meal. Let them be your first choice for a snack. Eat fresh fruits and avoid fruit juices.

Choose whole grains and coarse millets: Excessively processed/polished grains tend to lose all fibre and nutrients. Opt for whole grains or other coarse millets like jowar, bajra, fox-tail millet, which are healthy and digested slowly helping you feel full longer.

Moderation is key: If you keep your portion sizes reasonably small, it's easier to eat a variety of foods you want and stay healthy. Avoid indulgence.

Never skip breakfast: Through breakfast you feed your body after a gap of 10 to12 hours. A simple breakfast of cereal, pulse and fruit often provides enough carbohydrates, protein, minerals like calcium and iron and vitamins. Traditional breakfasts like idli, dosa or kichdi, along with fruit are good as they are a healthy balance of nutrients.

The fats issue: Good sources of healthy fat are needed to nourish your brain, heart and cells, as well as your hair, skin and nails. Monounsaturated fats can be got from groundnut oil, mustard oil, cottonseed oil and nuts like almonds. While polyunsaturated fats found in sunflower oil, soyabean oil, gingley oil and fish. A combination of these oils is ideal. However, saturated fats, found in red meat and whole milk dairy products and trans fats, found in bakery products and hydrogenated vegetable oils are to be avoided.

Eat small but regular meals: Skipping meals can lead to out-of-control hunger, often resulting in overeating. When you are very hungry, it is also tempting to forget about good nutrition. Snacking between meals can help curb hunger, but don't eat so much that your snack becomes an entire meal.

How you eat is as important as what you eat: Take out time for eating. Never time your meals with your favourite TV show or while working on your PC. Make eating time a family time. Eating with other people has numerous social and emotional benefits.

Be physically active: Always take time for physical activity. Never stay glued to TV or computer during free time. Let exercise or at least brisk walk be your daily activity. Maintain ideal body weight

Do not get carried away by advertisements: Remember, there is no better alternative than natural foods to get the nutrients your body requires. Any amount of health drinks or nutrient supplements can not match a healthy diet. Don't just get carried away by health or nutrition claims that food advertisements make.

The writer is with the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad. E-mail gmsubbarao@yahoo.com