By: Nidhi Sapra

Food is one of the most basic human needs. Some of the great migrations by our ancestors were driven by the need to find additional sources of food. The desire to find spices made Christopher Columbus set sail in 1400s. Hundreds of years later, the motivation to discover new food makes Anthony Bourdain hop from country to country.

In the modern age, the food industry has become a complex network of activities such as farming, food processing, catering and supply. Unsatisfied with the existing variety of produce and their shelf lives, new food products and fruit and vegetable hybrids are released almost every day. While some of the new trends suggest going back to basics, supermarkets continue to be filled with numerous variants of food or food-like products.

When I first came to this country, not so long ago, I was overwhelmed by the omnipresent obsession with choice. Just the yogurt section at most supermarket chains was enough to keep me standing for hours, comparing the levels of sodium, sugar, fat, artificial flavors and gelatin. For someone who grew up in a small town, where yogurt was only made at home and not sold in markets, this was definitely a bemusing experience. My conclusion was the more choices don’t necessarily translate to better choices.

While I do not suggest making yogurt at home, what has helped me was coming up with a shopping list of must-avoid chemicals and substitutes. While scanning through those long aisles at a supermarket, this can go a long way in ensuring that you stay away from ingredients that your body is not made to process.

The following are some of the ingredients that I try my best to avoid on the labels of food products I buy: MSG, High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or fractionated oils, potassium benzoate, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, artificial coloring, canola oil, soy lecithin, butylated hydroxyanisole, sodium nitrates or sodium nitrites.

A basic Google search will shed more light on what makes certain ingredients toxic and unfit for human consumption. While food innovation is a great way to keep the evolution of food going, we can definitely try to keep our options as natural and unadulterated as possible.