Diet Information: A Glossary of Terms Relevant to the Diet Debate

A better command of diet information and terminology can empower you to make healthier choices. That's why the authors of this site have compiled a quick reference guide to some of the key terms in nutritional science. We plan to expand this guide to diet information as the site grows:

Anorexia Nervosa – A psychiatric disorder characterized by a fear of getting fat.

Antioxidants - Chemical reducing agents believed to help neutralize cellular damage caused by free electrons.

Arteriosclerosis – A catch-all term used to mean “hardening of the arteries.”

Atherosclerosis – A condition of the hardening of the inner lining of the arteries.

Atkins, Dr. Robert – A prominent American cardiologist and author of the 1972 bestseller Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution. Perhaps the most famous name in the low carb movement. The company he founded, Atkins Nutritionals, continues to provide support and diet information for low carbers.

Banting, William – a coffinmaker by trade who lived in the 19th century and struggled with obesity throughout his life. He finally lost weight on a carb-restricted diet and published a popular pamphlet on his experience called “Letters on Corpulence.”

Binge Eating – sudden and emotionally linked over-consumption of food.

Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measurement that uses height and weight to calculates body fat percentage. Used by doctors to diagnose potential risk for obesity and overweight.

Bulimia Nervosa – a psychiatric disorder characterized by so called “binge and purge” eating habits.

Caloric Balance Hypothesis – Theory that the reason we gain weight is because we over-consume calories and/or fail to burn enough calories off via exercise.

Calories - The basic energy units of dietary science.

Carbohydrates - One of the three major macronutrient groups, along with fats and proteins. "Carbs" include simple and complex sugars as well as fiber.

Carnivorism – Nutritional approach that eschews all foodstuffs other than animal meats.

Cholesterol - Lipid-like alcohol compound. Important constituent of cell membranes, hormones, and other bio-active molecules.

Chylomicrons – another class of lipoproteins; they move fat through the blood stream.

Complex Carbohydrates – The so-called “good” carbs. These are made up of polysaccharide molecules; they contain lots of fiber and other nutrients.

Disaccharides – Two sugars chemically bound together to form either lactose (sugar found in milk and dairy products) or fructose (fruit sugar).

Edema – Fluid retention in the body tissues; often associated with overweight and obesity.

Essential Amino Acids - Protein building blocks that are: a) critical for life processes b) can only be obtained through diet.

Fad Diet – A ridiculous but temporarily popular weight loss system that lacks grounding in good science and/or is based on misleading diet information.

Fats - Macronutrients made up of fatty acid compounds; synthesized by plants and animals for an array of biochemical processes.

Fiber – Non-digestible polysaccharides and cellulose materials.

Fructose – A monosaccharide found commonly in fruits.

Fruititarianism – Nutritional approach in which fruit forms the basis of the diet.

Galactose – A monosaccharide found in gum, milk, and some vegetables and fruits.

Gallstones – Crystals formed in the biliary tree often as a result of disorders of the gallbladder; associated with overweight and obesity.

Gastric Bypass Surgery – An invasive surgery that literally shrinks the volume of the stomach; an extreme measure often employed to treat morbidly obese patients.

Glucose – The simplest biologically active sugar and source of cellular energy.

Glucagon - Hormone that, in concert with insulin, regulates blood sugar levels by, among other things, stimulating the breakdown of glycogen.

Glycemic Index - Scale used by dieticians to measure how foods effect blood sugar levels.

Glycerol – A sugar alcohol that forms the base of triglycerides.

Glycogen - Sugar-strands made by the body to store and/or use as biochemical fuel.

Gout – A kind of an arthritis that results in deposition of crystals in and around connective tissues; often associated with obesity.

GPDH - Compound that plays a key role in why we gain weight; it catalyzes the re-esterifcation of fatty acids into triglycerides. Also known as Glycerol 3-phosphate dehydrogenase. Out of all the terms in our diet information index, this could be the most critical and least well known.

High Density Lipoproteins (HDLs) – HDLs are often referred to as the “good” cholesterol; they contain the highest percentage of protein of any of the five classes of lipoproteins.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – A mixture of 45% glucose and 55% fructose. HFCS is a commonly added sweetener, found in everything from soda, candy, and sugar juices to canned soups. There is some debate among diet information experts about whether HFCS is “worse for you” than table sugar.

Hypertension – Elevated blood pressure; often associated with conditions like overweight and obesity.

Hypertriglyceridemia – Dangerously elevated levels of blood triglycerides (according to the American Heart Association, TG levels above 200 mgs/dl are considered “high”).

Intermediate Density Lipoproteins (IDLs) – IDLs are lipid transport proteins that, along with four other classes of lipoproteins, transport cholesterol and fat in the blood.

Insulin - A key signaling hormone made in the pancreas; its "lipogenic" (fat making) effects may be why we gain weight after eating carb-rich meals.

Ketoacidosis – A metabolic dysfunction caused by runaway ketosis, often resulting from failure to make enough insulin. It’s a dangerous condition, but it’s not a common side effect of low-carb diets (as some misleading diet information resources might insinuate).

Ketosis – A kind of metabolism that occurs on ultra-low carb diets in which liver creates what are known as ketone bodies to use as biochemical energy.

Keys, Dr. Ancel - Influential 20th century obesity researcher who championed diets low in saturated fat. His work served to cement what is now the conventional diet information that dietary fat is dangerous.

Kilo-calorie (a.k.a. Calorie) – The heat energy required to raise a kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

Lacto-Ovo-Veganism – Dietary practice that’s based on veganism but allows for the consumption of milk and egg products.

Lactose – Sugar commonly found in milk; it’s a disaccharide made up of galactose and glucose.

Leptin - Hormone made in the fat tissue; may play a key role in stimulating and suppressing appetite.

Lipophilia Hypothesis – Theory that insulin disregulates fat tissue, causing us to gain weight.

Low density lipoproteins (LDLs) – Often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol, LDLs actually are cholesterol transportation vehicles. They are subdivided into two classes: “regular” low density lipoproteins and “very” low density lipoproteins.

Macrobiotic Approach – Nutritional approach that emphasizes avoiding refined/processed foodstuffs and councils eating long-grained “staple” carbohydrates.

Metabolism – The process of breaking down organic food material and extracting useful biochemical energy from it.

Monosaccharides – Literally “single sugars.” These serve as the building blocks for more “complex” carbs like disaccharides and polysaccharides.

Ovo-Veganism – Nutritional practice that’s similar to standard veganism but allows for the consumption of eggs.

Pescetarianism – Dietary approach based on vegetarianism that allows for the consumption of fish and sea food.

Pollotarianism – Nutritional approach that’s essentially vegetarian but which allows for the consumption of meat from poultry.

Polysaccharides – Simple sugars chemically linked together to form long chains.

Simple Carbohydrates – The so-called “bad” carbs; these include table sugar and refined starches.

Starvation Diets – Diets involving the sudden and severe reduction of calorie intake; can be dangerous; usually not successful over the long term.

Stefansson, Vilhjalmur – Canadian anthropologist from the early 20th century who spent time with the Inuit and lived for many years on a meat-only diet; became a strong advocate for this nutritional approach.

Sucrose – Also known as table sugar; it’s a disaccharide made up of fructose and glucose components.

Sugar Substitutes - Natural and artificial compounds that taste sweet like sugar but which contain fewer calories and carbs.

Taubes, Gary – Science journalist and author of Good Calories, Bad Calories; outspoken advocate of the low carb diet and the Lipophilia Hypothesis. Spent close to a decade examining primary sources of health and diet information.

Triglyceride – A glycerol molecule chemically bound to a trifecta of fatty acids.

USDA Food Pyramid – Diagrammatic representation of the USDA’s recommendations for a healthy diet. The base of this pyramid is carbohydrates: 6 to 12 servings per day are recommended (approximately 300 grams of carbs). This website questions the appropriateness of this diet information.

Veganism – Dietary practice that eschews foods made from animals.

Vitamins – Compounds that can’t be made in the body but which nevertheless are necessary for healthy functioning.

Vegetarianism – Dietary practice that eschews the consumption of meat.

Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDLs) – Transportation vehicles for triglycerides, cholesterol, and lipids. Elevated VLDL levels are associated with heart disease and arthrosclerosis; VLDLs are formed in the liver from the breakdown of simple sugars like fructose.

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