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Food is such an central component in our life. What we eat reflects a lot about us. Our relationship with food and food habits can reveal how we define ourselves, what our values are, our heritage and background, how we cope, etc.

Among the many influences that affect our actions, the media often plays a large role. The choices we make when it comes to food may be influenced by what we hear, read and watch in the media. Obviously the media is a major source of information telling us what to eat and what not to eat. The media sends us very conflicting messages about food. We are shown countless images of what the ideal male and female look like, just turn on the TV or open any women's (or men's) magazine.

We are told that we need to be thin, athletic and muscular. We are also given much information about how to achieve these so-called ideal bodies through an array of diets, pills, exercise machines, etc. At the same time we are bombarded will advertisements for junk foods -- which includes fast food, processed foods loaded with calories and sugar -- and recipes for cakes and sweets in magazines that boast fat burning secrets. Many people are confused by all of this information and often have to deal will food, weight and body issues.

Many popular diet trends restrict certain types of food such as refined carbohydrates and sugars. The problem with many of these diets is that the sugars and off-limits foods are replaced by foods loaded with artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes like Aspartame and Sucralose. Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) has been approved by the FDA for several years and is considered safe. Yet, according to a countless number of other valid sources and studies Aspartame is connected to numerous side-effects and some as serious as seizures and death (February 1994 Department of Health and Human Services report).

Sucralose is also approved by the FDA, however there's no long-term (12-24 months) human studies done and no monitoring done for health effects. The FDA has approved many sugar alternatives. The government agencies took decades to agree on the thousands of deaths caused by tobacco. Instead of buying into all the restrictions, many of us have internalized the theme of moderation and balance in our approach to food.

Balance and moderation is a central theme in yoga. So then it only makes sense for me as a yoga teacher to practice as well as teach others about balance and in this case moderation in our food consumption. This is a very practical and enjoyable way to eat and be healthy. Although moderation seems like a common sense method to diet, many people find it more beneficial to actually eliminate certain foods entirely.

The small percentage of the population with food allergies or intolerance obviously will be better off to eliminate the foods that cause the adverse reaction. Those with undesirable food cravings also find it beneficial to totally eliminate the foods they crave, which is often processed sugary foods. Also, many people find great improvement in their health when abstaining from fast foods, processed foods, sugar and sugar substitutes. A great natural replacement for sugar is stevia. Stevia can be purchased at health food stores such as Trader Joe's or Whole Foods and can be found in the supplement section of the store.

Many of us live a very busy life and with the temptation and convenience of fast foods choosing to eat a healthy diet takes effort, commitment and planning. It's important to make the conscious choice to eat in such a way that promotes overall health and well being. Before you make a meal choice, think about what nutrients you'll be gaining from the food will help avoid consuming empty calories. Think about what foods to include in your diet and which one's you want to avoid and why. As I stated above, certain types of foods (unnatural foods, sugary foods, foods with partially hydrogenated oil/trans fats and processed food) are best avoided or if you choose, in limited moderation.

I recommend a diet rich in vegetables (I prefer organic), protein from sources such as fish (be sure to choose fish with low levels of mercury, it's best to avoid or limit intake of swordfish, dolphin, mackerel, snapper and tuna), organic eggs, tofu/soy products, and some lean meats. Also be sure to include some fruit, low-fat dairy and some whole grains.