Health and Nutrition Dictionary
Sometimes it feels like you need a dictionary to understand today's health and nutrition news. Well, here you go!
Antioxidant - chemical substances that help protect against cell damage from free radicals (molecules with one or more unpaired electrons). Some well-known antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, carotenoids, flavonoids, and key enzymes in your body.
"Bad" cholesterol - also known as LDL (low-density lipoproteins). A high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood signifies clogged arteries and is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other lifestyle-related diseases.
BMI - Body Mass Index. A ratio of weight to height, calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. A BMI under 20 is considered too thin; 21-25 is normal; 25-29 is overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese.
Cholesterol - an essential substance produced by the body and found in animal products. Divided into "bad" cholesterol, which clogs arteries, and "good" cholesterol, which cleans ateries. You can lower your cholesterol by eating foods low in saturated fats and exercising.
Complex carbohydrates - starches and fiber found in foods such as bread, whole grains, rice, and cereals. These nutrients are broken down slowly in the digestion process and are a steady, long-lasting source of energy. Empty calories - calories from junk food that contribute to weight gain and do not offer any nutritional value.
Essential fatty acids - fats your body needs that it can not produce on its own. Classified into omega 3s and omega 6s, these fatty acids must be obtained from food sources such as tuna, salmon, leafy greens, vegetable oils, walnuts, and flax seeds.
Fiber - the part of plant foods that can not be absorbed by the body and aids in digestion. Fiber is found in fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains. Flavonoid/flavonol - a group of chemical compounds found in plants. In studies, they've proven anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial. They're also powerful antioxidants.
Genetic modification (GM) - human-engineered changes in a plant or animal, whether carried out through traditional breeding or gene splicing. Glycemic index - a measure of how a given food affects blood-glucose levels. The lower the rating, the slower the absorption and digestion process, which provides a more gradual, healthier infusion of sugars into the bloodstream.
"Good" cholesterol - also known as HDL (high-density lipoproteins), it carries harmful plaque buildup out of the arteries. Too low an HDL level is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. You can increase your HDL level by eating avocados, and certain vegetable oils and nuts.
Hydrogenation - a chemical process that changes unsaturated oil into a semi-solid saturated fat (such as making margarine from vegetable oil). The result is a trans fat, which have been shown to increase "bad" LDL cholesterol and decrease "good" HDL cholesterol.
Macronutrient - categories of food the body needs in large amounts: fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
Micronutrient - substances the body needs in small amounts, such as vitamins and minerals.
Mineral - naturally occurring elements (as in, The Periodic Table) that the body needs to function. Some of the 25 Minerals we need to sustain good health include Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, and Iron. Variation: trace minerals.
Natural - foods, both plant and animal, that are not genetically modified, and do not contain additives.
Nutritionally dense - foods that offer high amounts of vitamins and minerals per serving. These foods, sometimes called superfoods, typically provide slow-burning fuel for the body and are high in fiber.
Organic - foods, both plant and animal, produced without the use of artificial pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, steroids, or antibiotics.
Refined - processed. Refined grains have their bran and germ removed, resulting in a huge loss of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Refined sugar depresses the body's immune system and leads to weight gain. The opposite of a refined sugar is a simple sugar like honey.
Saturated fat - a type of fat most often found in animal food products including milk, eggs, meat and butter, but also found in coconut and palm oil. Too much saturated fat in a person's diet increases heart disease risk.
Simple carbohydrates - sugars found in honey, molasses, candy, soda, cake, and fruit - they are quickly digested and contain few vitamins and minerals.
S.A.D. - a derogatory term for the Standard American Diet - high in saturated fat and refined foods, and low in nutrients.
Trans fats - A "bad" fat formed when vegetable oil is processed with hydrogen and added to foods to increase their shelf life and flavor stability. Found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils, trans fat raises bad cholesterol, increasing risk for heart disease.
Unsaturated fats - "good" fats are found in vegetable oils, and are capable of reducing blood cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats are classified as poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated; mono-unsaturated is the healthier variety.
Vitamin - compounds that are necessary for normal body function. In contrast with minerals, vitamins are produced by plants. Humans require 13 vitamins. Whole food - whole-grain food that is not refined and does not contain additives.