Part 1: A Comprehensive Glossary of Nutrition Terms
Nutrition is a complex field with a multitude of terms and concepts. In this extensive glossary, we'll demystify the language of nutrition, providing clear definitions for key terms and concepts.
Macronutrients (AKA Macros) are the essential nutrients that provide energy to the body. They include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals required by the body in small quantities to maintain various physiological functions and overall health.
Calories are units of energy provided by food and beverages. When calories indicated for nutrition, the actual technical unit is kilocalories (kcals which are 1000 calories), but can simply be referred to as Calories or Cals. In general terms, carbs and proteins provide 4 calories per gram, fat provides 9 calories per gram, and alcohol provides 7 calories per gram. The way your body breaks down and uses different types of carbs, proteins, and fats can vary vastly. The net energy your body gets from them depends on many factors such as physical properties of the food (whole, ground, blended etc. like peanuts vs peanut butter), combination with other food items, other nutrients the item contains etc. Nourish Goals factors in as many known factors as possible for the proper calculation of calories and quantities.
Carbohydrates (AKA Carbs) are one of the three macronutrients, consisting of sugars, starches, and fibers. They are a primary source of energy for the body. When you digest carbs, they are converted into blood sugars which fuel your cells, tissues, and organs. Extra sugar is stored in your liver and muscles or broken down and stored as body fat.
They often grouped into two categories: simple and complex. Simple carbs are made of natural and added sugars found in foods like candy, table sugar and sugary drinks, while complex carbs are made of fiber and starches found in legumes like beans and peas, starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and corn, whole grains, and cereals. Fiber is a subgroup of complex carbs. Complex carbs take longer to digest and are a more stable source of energy than simple carbs.
Proteins (AKA Prots) are macronutrients composed of amino acids. They are essential for building and repairing tissues, producing enzymes, and supporting immune function. Protein can make you feel full longer by slowing digestion, which can help fuel weight loss.
High-protein foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and peas, nuts, soy, and some grains.
Fats, also known as lipids, are macronutrients with various functions, including energy storage, insulation, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. A moderate amount of fats is needed in the diet for good health. Fats in food come in several forms, including saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Excessive consumption of fat or unhealthy types of fat can be detrimental to health. Some examples of foods that contain fats are butter, oil, nuts, meat, fish, and most dairy products.
Dietary Fiber is a carb found in plants best known for supporting healthy digestion and making you feel full faster and longer, it promotes digestive health and may help with weight management. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber (which helps control your cholesterol) and insoluble fiber (which helps keep you regular).
Some high fiber foods are fruits, like apples and berries, vegetables like carrots and broccoli and beans, nuts and seeds, and whole grains, like oatmeal, quinoa and brown rice.
Vitamins are essential micronutrients your body uses to grow and function every day. While most people can get all of the vitamins they need from a healthy, nutrient-dense diet, some people such as vegetarians and vegans, pregnant women, and people with chronic conditions may need to take supplements to maintain sufficient vitamin levels.
Minerals are micronutrients that play essential roles in bodily functions, including bone health, nerve function, and fluid balance. We get them through proper nutrition, but at times supplementing specific minerals is needed, for instance iodine which is needed for thyroid health is added to some types of table salts.
Antioxidants are compounds that help protect and repair cells from damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules that seem to contribute to aging, cancer, and certain diseases). Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene are found in various fruits and vegetables, such as red grapes, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, figs, cherries, pears, guava, oranges, apricots, mango, red bell peppers and tomatoes. .
11. RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance)
The RDA is a guideline for the average daily intake of a nutrient required to meet the needs of most healthy individuals.
12. DV (Daily Value)
The DV is a reference value used on food labels to help consumers understand the nutrient content of a food in the context of a daily diet.
13. Nutrient Density
Nutrient density refers to the concentration of nutrients in a food relative to its calorie content. Foods with high nutrient density provide more essential nutrients per calorie.
14. Glycemic Index (GI)
GI is a scale that ranks carbohydrates based on their impact on blood sugar levels. Foods with a low GI cause a slower, more gradual rise in blood sugar. Foods and drinks are ranked from 0–100, with high-GI foods causing a sharper spike in blood sugar (pure sugar, for example, is ranked 100) compared to low-GI foods (like veggies and beans). Nourish Goals developed a new indicator of food impact on blood sugar level, GLC. See definition in this glossary
15. GLC - Glycemic Load per Calorie
GLC, developed by Nourish Goals, stands for Glycemic Load per Calorie. This is an important indicator to help control blood sugar levels. The lower the number, the less likely the food will cause blood sugar level spikes, which in turn is preferred when blood sugar needs to be monitored or controlled. It takes into consideration the Glycemic Index of the food item, its carbs content, and the amount of total calories of the food item (GI * Carbs Content / Total Calories). Lower number means lower Glycemic Load per same caloric intake of the food. Generally, for a given amount of caloric intake, foods with low GLC are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar levels compared to foods with high GLC.
Superfoods refers to nutrient-dense foods (such as legumes, salmon, avocado, broccoli, or blueberries) that are believed to offer exceptional health benefits due to their high content of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The term, originally coined for marketing purposes (mainly to promote the sale of bananas) in the early 1900s, is now used to indicate high-quality food, but it is often still used as a marketing term.
17. Empty Calories foods
Empty calories refer to foods and beverages that provide a significant number of calories but little to no nutritional value. Examples include sugary drinks and candies.
18. Whole Foods
Whole foods are unprocessed or minimally processed foods that are close to their natural state. They include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
19. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat known for their anti-inflammatory properties. They are found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and most nuts and peanuts.
20. BMI (Body Mass Index)
BMI is a numerical value calculated based on individual's height and weight. It is used as a screening tool to assess whether a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. BMI does not account for other factors such as age and gender, and therefore can be very misleading. Nourish Goals displays BMI as it is a popular indicator, but it is not used in any of the nutritional calculation.
Metabolism is the set of chemical processes that occur within the body to maintain life. It includes the conversion of food into energy and the elimination of waste products.
22. Nutrient Absorption
Nutrient absorption is the process by which the body takes in nutrients from the digestive system into the bloodstream for use in various bodily functions.
23. Daily Allowance
The daily allowance refers to the recommended amount of a specific nutrient that a person should consume daily to meet their nutritional needs.
24. Portion Control
Portion control involves managing the size of food servings to avoid overeating and control calorie intake.
25. Nutrient Deficiency
Nutrient deficiency occurs when the body lacks a specific nutrient, leading to health problems or symptoms associated with that deficiency.
Malnutrition is a condition resulting from an inadequate or unbalanced diet, leading to health issues and poor overall well-being.
27. Food Pyramid
The food pyramid is a visual representation of a healthy diet, emphasizing the importance of different food groups and their recommended servings.
28. Food Group
Food groups are categories of foods that share similar nutritional properties. Common food groups include fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy.
29. Dietary Guidelines
Dietary guidelines are recommendations provided by health authorities to help individuals make informed food choices and adopt healthy eating patterns
30. Blood Sugar
Blood sugar or Blood Glucose is sugar that enters your bloodstream after you eat or drink, which is then transported all over your body to serve as the main fuel source for your cells. While tracking your blood sugar is a must when you have diabetes, being aware of your blood sugar levels can be helpful for anyone, as both high and low blood sugar can be harmful.
Cholesterol is a fat-like waxy substance found in most body tissues. Your body makes and uses it to create vitamin D, hormones, and substances that help you digest foods. The liver makes all the cholesterol the body needs, but consuming certain foods that contain saturated and trans fats, such as meat, poultry and dairy products provide more cholesterol to the body. The two types of cholesterol are LDL cholesterol, which is bad, and HDL, which is good. Too much of LDL or not enough of HDL increases the risk cholesterol will slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain and may result in health issues.
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose get into your cells to be used for energy. If the body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin, or doesn’t use insulin properly, glucose levels in the blood are high and it is not transferred to cells. Diabetes raises the risk for damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart. Preventing or managing diabetes is done with proper nutrition, exercise and medication.
Electrolytes are minerals (like sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride) your body needs for essential functions like muscles action. They have a natural positive or negative electrical charge when dissolved in water. They help your body regulate chemical reactions, maintain the balance between fluids inside and outside your cells, and more.
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Gluten can be found in many types of foods. While going gluten-free is popular, it may not be necessary unless you have a sensitivity or celiac disease (a rare autoimmune disorder where the body cannot process gluten).
35. Intermittent Fasting (IF)
Also called “time-restricted eating,” intermittent fasting (IF) is when you limit eating to a certain time window, often around 8–10 hours. Proponents say it helps with weight loss, improved body composition, and decreased cravings, but because it’s restrictive it might not be for everyone. It does not replace a properly balanced nutrition diet.
36. Keto Diet (Ketogenic Diet)
The keto diet, more formally known as the ketogenic diet, is a very low carb, high fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins and low carb diets. If done correctly, it can force your body into ketosis (where fat is burned for fuel instead of carbs). It requires significant lifestyle changes and isn’t right (or safe) for everyone. Always consult a nutrition specialist and/or your doctor before adopting this or any nutrition plan.
37. Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet places an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seafood, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts. Proponents find it to be a sustainable way of eating and it has proven health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and dementia.
Metabolism is the process your body undergoes to transform the food you eat into energy you can use. While approximately 60–70% of your daily calories are expended on basic bodily functions., digesting food and exercising burn about 10% and 20% of your daily calories respectively.
Just how “fast” or “slow” your metabolism is depends on a number of factors, like your genetics, age, body size, activity, and hormone levels.
39. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This type of healthy fat is found in fatty fish like salmon as well as walnuts and chia seeds. They have been shown to help lower levels of bad cholesterol and protect brain health.
40. Saturated Fat
Cheese, bacon, ice cream, chicken skin, bacon, lamb, and beef all have one thing in common, besides being delicious: They are high in saturated fat, the “unhealthy” fat you’re best off limiting. Foods high in saturated fats can raise your “bad” cholesterol and your risk of heart disease, so save them for special occasions and consider healthier alternatives like plant-based oils and frozen “nice” creams.
41. Unsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats are the “healthy” fats that can help lower your “bad” cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. They include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, olives and avocados, nuts and seeds, and plant-based oils like olive, peanut and sesame oil.
42. Whole Grains
As the name suggests, whole grain products are made with the entire grain seed (the bran, germ, and endosperm). Some examples include 100% wholewheat bread, cracked wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa.
Many whole grains are a good source of fiber, as opposed to refined grains like white rice, white bread, and traditional all-purpose flour - these had their natural fiber content removed along with the bran and germ and lost many of their nutritional benefits.
43. Yo-Yo Dieting
Yo-yo dieting — also known as weight cycling — is a pattern of rapidly losing and regaining weight over and over again, often due to drastic, short-term fad diets you can’t (and shouldn’t) maintain. Yo-yo dieting are ineffective long term, and because they can slow your metabolism and even harm your heart health, experts recommend a slow and steady approach to weight loss instead.
Part 2: Conclusion - Navigating the World of Nutrition
Understanding these key nutrition terms and concepts is essential for making informed dietary choices and maintaining optimal health. By familiarizing yourself with the language of nutrition, you can take proactive steps toward a healthier and more balanced diet.