Have you found yourself confused when reading nutrition articles or looking at labels on food products? While this list does not cover the full extent of nutrition terminology, these are a few of the most common nutrition terms to know. Familiarizing yourself with these may help you make more informed food decisions and also help prepare for discussions with your provider and/or dietitian.
Blood Glucose: Also known as blood sugar. Glucose is the main sugar in the body that is derived from food.
Carbohydrates: Also referred to as carbs. Carbohydrates are one of the three main nutrient groups. They are the primary source of energy by breaking down into glucose for the body to use as energy.
DASH Diet: DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is an eating plan that focuses on foods that help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. It recommends limiting high sodium foods, sugar and saturated fat and encourages more foods rich in potassium, fiber and protein in the diet.
Digestion: This is the process in which food and liquid are moved through your GI tract, food and liquids are then broken into smaller parts. Once foods are broken down, the body can absorb and move nutrients to parts of the body to store or use.
Diuretic: It is a substance that increases production of urine and promotes removal of fluids in the body. An example of a natural diuretic is caffeine.
Electrolytes: Electrolytes are essential minerals in body fluids. They include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride. This term is often associated with dehydration. Dehydration is when there is deficit of fluids and electrolytes.
Fad diet: While there is no single definition of a fad diet. A fad diet is defined as a trendy dietary regimen or style of eating that often eliminates one or more of the essential food groups and promises insensibly quick results or health improvements. Following fad diets without proper guidance can pose risks to your health.
Fat: In reference to nutrition, fat is one of the main nutrient groups that is obtained from the diet and it gives you energy. There are different types of fat in our diet: saturated and unsaturated fat. Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products, palm and coconut oil. Unsaturated fats are mostly found in vegetables, nuts and fish.
Fiber: It is a carb naturally found in plants. Not all carbs are bad. Fiber is an example of a good carb. It is useful in supporting healthy digestion and making you feel full faster and longer. This is found on food labels under the category, Total Carbohydrates.
GI tract (gastrointestinal tract): Sometimes known as the gut. It is the pathway starting at the mouth by which food enters the body and solid wastes are expelled through the anus.
Gluten: This is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten contributes to dough’s elasticity, it acts like a glue that allows the foods created to hold their shape and gives bread its chewy and soft texture. When shopping for gluten-free products, keep in mind that the Food Drug and Administration (FDA) does not require foods to be labelled gluten-free.
Lactase: This is the enzyme made in the small intestine that is required to breakdown lactose, which is found in dairy products.
Macronutrients: Sometimes referred to as macros. This term describes the three main nutrients your body needs and uses in large amounts: carbohydrates, fat and protein. In contrast, there are micronutrients (see below).
Metabolism: This describes the chemical reactions the body undergoes to break down food into energy. Your metabolism affects how efficient your body burns calories (converting food into energy).
Micronutrients: These are nutrients that include vitamins and minerals, which your body requires and uses much smaller amounts compared to macronutrients.
Omega 3 fatty acids: These are polyunsaturated fats that are essential for good health. There are three main omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mostly in plant oils such as flaxseed, canola oil, and soybean oil. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood.
Protein: One of the three main nutrient groups. It is a macronutrient that is essential to build, repair and maintain bones, muscle and skin.
Sodium: Also known as salt. It is a mineral found naturally in foods and it may also be added in foods. This is the term that is listed on food labels.
Trans fat: A type of unhealthy fat that is artificially made when manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats to help increase shelf life, stability of fat and enhance flavor. This is found on food labels and this is something you want to avoid or highly limit.
Whole grains: These are a type of grain that contains the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm. They are best known for providing a good source of dietary fiber.
Vegetarian: A plant-based diet that may include varying amounts of eggs and/or dairy products. Sometimes fish and shellfish are included. A vegetarian diet does not include meat, poultry, meat or poultry-based ingredients or their byproducts. There are different types of vegetarian diets: 1) Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish and poultry but includes eggs and dairy products 2) Lacto-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish, poultry and eggs but includes dairy products 3) Ovo-vegetarian diet: Eliminates meat, fish, poultry and dairy products but includes eggs 4) Pescatarian diet: Eliminates meat and poultry but includes fish and sometimes eggs and dairy products.