Diet Terms and Definitions

Please Note – The food label terms in this glossary apply to the United States. Other countries may use the same wording, but the numerical values of calories or fat applied to those words may or may not differ.

This word means fatty; consisting of or containing fat.
Amino Acids
Nine of these essential `building blocks of proteins’ cannot be manufactured by the body alone and so have to be provided though food intake. People following a Vegan diet should be aware that it is not possible to receive all necessary amino acids through consumption of vegetables alone. (See Proteins and Vegan Diet).
Anorectic Drugs
These are drugs used to make people eat less food by suppressing a person’s appetite, and therefore lessen the intake of calories. (See Calorie).
Artificial Sweeteners
These variously named chemicals have lower calories than the sugar they replace.
Find out which artificial sweeteners are used in sugar
free energy drinks
BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis)
This is a method for the estimation of how much body fat is present in a person, by passing a safe electric current through their body. The flow of the electricity is made more difficult by higher amounts of fat, and conversely, the current’s flow is easier if less amounts of fat are present. So the flow of current is then measured to provide the body fat percent reading. (See Body Fat).
Blood Sugar Levels
The level or amount of glucose in the bloodstream. (See Glucose).
BMI (Body Mass Index)
This is a very common method of evaluating individual people to see if they are under or overweight. It involves comparing their weight to their height by dividing the weight measurement (expressed in kilograms) by the square of the height (expressed in meters). A BMI of below 18.5 is underweight, between 18.5 and 25 is an indication of healthy weight, 25 to 30 is overweight, a BMI of over 30 is referred to as obese, over 35 is known as morbid obesity, and over 40 indicates extreme obesity.
Click here for our BMI calculator
Body Fat
This is the percentage of a person’s body mass that is not made up of either; bones, muscles, organs, or water.
A plant derived stimulant often to be found in many foods and drinks. Research the caffeine content of food and beverages here.
Calorie Goal
A target number of calories that will allow a person to lose weight whilst still having the energy needs of the body provided for.
A calorie is a unit of heat energy used in determining nutritional values. When foodstuffs, the `fuel’ for the body are metabolized, they liberate varying amounts of energy as heat. This energy is expressed in calories, hence the term; `burning the calories’. Fat produces 9 calories per gram; alcohol turns out 7 calories per gram, whilst carbohydrates and proteins each provide 4 calories per gram. Technically speaking, 1 calorie is the measure of heat needed to warm 1kg (kilogram) of water by 1 degree Centigrade. (Also See Carbohydrates; Fats, and Proteins, see more about calories).
Food must have less than 5 calories per given serving for this to be on the label.
Calorific or Caloric Value
This is the number of calories in any given food or drink.
These are compounds of Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen. The word is commonly encountered as a group name for a type of foodstuffs that includes all sugars; which are known as simple carbohydrates, and starches and fiber, which are referred to as complex carbohydrates. They are a major source of energy for the body. (See Complex Carbohydrates, Fiber and Simple Carbohydrates or read more about carbohydrates).

This is a fatty substance that plays an important part in cellular health; it is both produced in our livers and obtained from foodstuffs such as organ meat, eggs, cheese, milk and butter. Too much cholesterol, however, is a problem. Because it is carried around the bloodstream, any excess levels are deposited on the walls of veins and arteries; this can cause the blood vessels to narrow, therefore decreasing the blood flow and causing heart problems. There are different forms of cholesterol; `good’ and ‘bad’. This distinction has to do with how it is carried around the blood. Chemicals called lipoproteins, which are combined fatty proteins are used for transporting the cholesterol in the bloodstream, and HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as `good’ because any excess can be sent to the liver and dealt with, but LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol cannot be, and remains to potentially clog arteries. Read more about Cholesterol and your health.

Complex Carbohydrates
These are starches and fiber, like breads, pasta, rice, cereals and vegetables. Their molecules are linked in complex chains, hence their name, and are converted into sugars for energy release by the body during digestion. Because these starches must be broken down, they offer longer term energy than simple carbohydrates. (See Carbohydrates, Fiber, and Simple Carbohydrates).
This is an allowed plan of food and drink set down for the loss of weight, or a prescribed plan for medical reasons. The word can also be used to mean the habitual food intake of people or animals.
Anything pertaining to a diet is dietary.
Diuretic drugs or substances increase the amount of urine produced in the body, and thereby can give a false impression of weight loss by reducing the water content of the body. No fat is lost due to a diuretic, but too much potassium can be, as well as other vital minerals and vitamins. (See Below).
DV (Daily Value)
In the United States, this food label term is aimed at assisting consumers in their planning of a nutritious diet. They are developed by the FDA. (See FDA).
These are mineral salts like calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. They are necessary in any diet for healthy nerves and muscle movement. Many people on diets use sports drinks (electrolyte solutions) to top them up, but these can also contain added sugars. Potassium can be depleted by the use of diuretics. (See Above).
Energy Expenditure
This is the energy, expressed as calories, used or ‘burned’ in exercise. Exercise is often recommended as a companion to dieting for the purpose of losing weight.
Enriched, or Enrichment
These are processed foods that have nutrients added to them, either to enhance the original or to replace any nutrients that were lost in the processing.
Essential Fatty Acids
These are fats that must be in a diet for good health. They are principally gained from vegetable oils. (See Fat).
Exchange Diet / Plan
This is a weight loss plan where foods with equal calorific values are divided up into separate groupings. The person on the diet can then interchange foods from within each list at mealtimes to allow for more choice and variety within the dietary regime. (See Below).
Exchange Lists
These are the lists of swapable foodstuffs that have been divided up according to their energy and nutritional qualities for the purpose of an exchange diet. (See Above).
Extra Lean
Food labeling terminology that means there is less than 2g of saturated fat, less than 5g of overall fat and no more than 95mg of cholesterol for a 100g portion of meat, poultry, game meat, or seafood.
Fad Diets
These are fashionable diets that come and go on the health scene. Often highly controversial, they are heavily hyped with spectacular claims but contain dubious nutritional and weight loss advice. Competent medical opinion should always be sought before starting on any of these diets.
Fat Replacers
There are many of these substance, either based on proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, or different forms of fatty acids, that are used as ingredients in various foods to mimic the applications of fat, but with much less calories.
Fat is necessary for human health and together with carbohydrates and proteins, gives us the energy to live. Fat also helps us by allowing the `fat soluble’ vitamins A, D, E and K to be transported around the body and utilized where needed. However, having too much fat is responsible for many health concerns, and in most cultures (though not all) is considered to be unattractive, so at any one time millions of people around the world are dieting to reduce the fat content of their bodies.

There are different types of fat, and fats found in food are a combination of types of fatty acids, though each holds the same 9 calories per gram, they differ in other ways. Saturated fats (solid at room temperature) for example, which are mainly found in foodstuffs of animal origin; butter, cheese, cream, red meats and milk, but also in plant products such as cocoa butter and coconut oil, may cause cholesterol in the blood to increase when too much is consumed, risking heart disease. Unsaturated fats (liquid at room temperature) do not raise cholesterol levels, and may help to decrease them. They are divided into monounsaturated fats, which are found in sea foods and vegetable oils, such as peanut or olive oil, and highly unsaturated polyunsaturated fats, in vegetable fats like sunflower oil, to give one example. (See also Essential Fatty Acids and Hydrogenated or read more about fats).

A food label term that means there is less than 0.5g of fat in a given size serving.
FDA (Food & Drug Administration)
In the United States, this is the federal government agency concerned with monitoring and regulating food and drugs.
This is a generic term referring to plant structure such as cellulose. These forms of complex carbohydrates cannot be digested by humans, but as roughage, fiber nevertheless aids bodily health.
Food Journal
This is a written record of all foods and drinks consumed by a person over a given time. It can assist in personalizing dietary planning.
Food Pyramid
A graphic aid to a healthy diet. The foodstuffs at the bottom of the pyramid are encouraged as being low calorie – high volume, and at the top; foods are placed that should not be consumed often, they being high calorie – low volume foods.
Fortified foods or drinks are those that have had extra vitamins and minerals added to them.
A very important sugar that most carbohydrates are made up of. Glucose provides energy for our body cells after it has been carried to them in the bloodstream; it can either be used immediately or stored for later. (See Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia).
A metric unit for weight and mass present on food labels. One gram (1g) is one thousandth of one kilogram (1kg).
High Calorie – Low Volume
These are foods that do not often satisfy an appetite, so encouraging more to be consumed, even though they are high in calories. Subsequently more of this food is eaten than necessary, leading to weight gain. (See Layered Eating, and Low Calorie – High Volume).
This is a fat that has been chemically altered from a liquid (oil) to a solid fat. Margarine, for example, are hydrogenated fats, and contain trans fatty acids. Over consumption of these can raise cholesterol in the blood even though the original fats were vegetable oils, which as unsaturated fats, do not raise cholesterol. (See Fat).
This is a condition caused by there being too much glucose in the bloodstream, also known as high blood sugar. (See below, and Glucose).
A condition where there is too little glucose in the blood for good health, also know as low blood sugar. (See above, and Glucose).
Intense Exercise
This is defined as exercise that raises the heart rate and lasts at least an hour in duration.
This is the predominant carbohydrate in milk. It is more often known as milk sugar. 75% of the world can’t digest lactose, so they have to consume cow’s milk alternatives.
Lacto-Vegetarian Diet
This is a diet in which vegetables and dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc) are permitted but eggs and all meats are not.
Layered Eating
This is a common sense approach to weight loss whereby low calorie – high volume foods are eaten when hungry in meals before high calorie – low volume foods are touched. This way, an appetite might be satisfied without any unnecessary extra calorific intake. (See High Calorie – Low Volume and Low Calorie – High Volume).
Lean Body Mass
All of the body with the exception of adipose tissue (fat).
On meat, game meats, poultry and seafood, this label being present indicates there should be no more than 10g of fat, of which saturated fat can be no more than 4.5g, and less than 95mg of cholesterol per 100g serving.
Lifestyle Change
A step up from a diet, which can be short lasting, a lifestyle change means a long term commitment to healthier food intake and/or exercise over the coming years.
On food labels, this product has a third of the calories, or half of the fat of the regular alternative.
This is a food group that includes cholesterol, fat and oils.
Low Calorie – High Volume
These are foodstuffs that fill can fill a hungry stomach without giving many calories to the body. Vegetable soups are an example of this.
Low Calorie
A food label term that means the food or drink must have 40 calories or less per given serving.
This food labeling term denotes the product has less than 3g of fat in a given size of serving.
This is a diet that originates from Eastern philosophies. Encouraging food choices to match the seasons of the year, it is mostly vegetarian, but also includes sea foods. (See Vegetarian
This is the collective name for all the life maintaining biochemical processes that take place within our bodies concerned with the breaking down of food, and the subsequent release and utilization of the then available energy.
Inorganic (non carbon containing) elements that are vital for health.
Monounsaturated Fat
See Fat.
Morbid Obesity
See BMI.
Mormon Tea
Known also as Desert Tea, this contains a stimulant called ephedrine which increases the body’s metabolic rate for the increased `burning’ of calories. (See Calories and Metabolism).
All substances from food and drink that the body uses for energy, growth, upkeep and repair.
A professional who advises on diet planning for weight loss, medical reasons, or as an anti allergic precaution.
See BMI.
Related to fats, oils are triglycerides that are liquid at room temperature, where fats are triglycerides that are solid at room temperature. (See Triglycerides).
See BMI.
This is a vegetarian (plant-based) diet that also includes eggs, for the prevention of amino acid deficiency. (See Amino Acids).
A word borrowed from geography. Here, in dieting, it means a stable level having been attained, where enough fat has been lost to match calorie intake with a lower metabolism.
Polyunsaturated Fat
See Fat.
These are organic (carbon containing) substances that are vital for a healthy diet. Built up from amino acids, they are used for building much of the body, including bones, muscles and skin. The amino acids they contain are needed for the construction of all living cells. Each gram of a protein provides 4 calories. (See Amino Acids).
R.D. (Registered Dietician)
An expert on food health. In the United States, anyone who wishes to become this must study an ADA (American Dietetic Association) approved college study course and pass the exam.
Raw – Food Diet
This is a vegan variant diet that encourages the non-cooking of vegetables, grains, pulses, etc. It can lead to protein deficiency. (See Vegan, and Proteins).
Reasonable Goal
A simple target that can be met to encourage further good observance of a dietary plan.
Reduced Calories
This food product must have 25% or less the calories of the same size regular alternative to qualify for this labeling term. Can also be termed as `fewer calories‘.
Reduced Fat
On food labels, this food must have 25% or less the fat content than the regular product. Also can be known as `less fat’. Read more about food labels.
Saturated Fat
See Fat.
Serving Size
This is the given portion or amount of food used for reference purposes on a product’s food label.
Simple Carbohydrates
These are sugars like glucose, fructose and others which provide instantly accessible energy boosts for the body. Unlike starches, their chemical make up contains only one or two sugar molecules. (See Carbohydrates, Complex Carbohydrates, and fiber).
This nutrient rich blue-green algae is often hailed as a wonder food for many aspects of health and diet.
See Complex Carbohydrates.
This is the scientific name for table sugar. It is a mix of fructose and glucose and can be found in many plants.
Unsaturated Fat
See Fat.
Vegan Diet
This is a an extreme form of vegetarian diet, where not only red meat, poultry and fish is avoided, but also anything of animal origin like eggs, dairy, and even honey. (See Amino Acids).
A plant-based diet that also permits eggs and dairy. (See also Lacto-Vegetarian, Macrobiotic, and Ovo-Vegetarian).
These organic nutrients are essential to health and no healthy diet should disregard them.
VLCD (Very Low Calorie Diet)
These diets involve the consumption (usually to the total exclusion, sometimes to the semi-exclusion of all other foods) of commercially prepared formulaic drinks that provide all necessary nutrients. They can allow for the rapid loss of weight, but should not be continued for the long term.
Whole Grain
These healthy products contain grain that has kept its outer covering, which is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
WHR (Waist – To – Hip Ratio)
This is the ratio of a person’s waist circumference, measured around the belly-button, to their hip circumference, measured at the widest point of the hips.
Yo-Yo Dieting
This is a practice where a person will lose weight, then gain weight, lose it, then gain it, and so-on, in a repeating cycle. Read full article about yo-yo dieting.