A Nutrition Dictionary: The New Words of Food Advertising

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More and more lately, it appears that one needs to take a dictionary into the grocery store or while watching television to learn about all the new words food manufacturers are using as health claims and in their commercials. Believe it or not, some of the new “advertising” nutrition related terms on food packages can be helpful in making good food choices. Below is some of the new terms used and their definitions.

PHYTOCHEMICALS or PHYTONUTRIENTS: are substances that are found in plants and are known to provide protection to the plant from environmental enemies such as ultra-violet light and pollution. Scientists believe eating these same protective com- pounds found in plants can also protect humans from harmful diseases like cancer and heart disease and slow the aging process.

ANTIOXIDANTS: are one type of photochemical. They are food substances that inhibit the normal oxidation process that takes place during digestion. Oxidation triggers the release of free radicals. Free radicals are damaging to cells. Antioxidants bind with the free radicals and in effect neutralize the free radical and therefore disabling it from causing cell damage. Neutralizing free radicals helps to protect the body against: cancer, heart disease, and the effects of aging. Some common types of antioxidants include: vitamin A, C, and E.

CAROTENOIDS: are antioxidants and a group of approximately 700 compounds that give fruits and vegetables their green, yellow, orange, and red pigments and is protective from sun damage. The most commonly known carotenoid is beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, found in carrots and squash. Other commonly carotenoids include: lycopene a red pigment in tomatoes and lutein found in eggs and green vegetables.

FLAVONOIDS or BIOFLAVONOIDS: are also antioxidants that cover a category of some 4,000 plant compounds. Like carotenoids, these are also pigments that color foods like chocolate, tea, blueberries, and grapes. Soy products are high in flavonoids as well. Ongoing studies show that these po- tent antioxidants offer protection against heart disease and cancer.

FUNCTIONAL FOODS or NUTRACEUTICALS: are foods or any component of a food (including whole foods, fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods) that may provide a particular health benefit beyond basic nutrition. They may act medicinally. Examples include natural ingredients like-berries, soy, broccoli, oranges as well as processed, fortified, or enhanced foods.

PROBIOTICS: are live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host by improving its intestinal microbial balance and thereby prevents disease. The best known probiotic is lactobacillus acidophilus which is found in yogurt, acidophilus milk, and supplements.

PREBIOTICS: are foods that contain nutrients that are required by bacteria for growth metabolism. The bacteria that live in the intestine of humans survive on the supply of partially digested food that is passing down the gastrointestinal tract. Certain desirable gastrointestinal bacteria require specific nutrients to grow. The best example of a prebiotic is oligosaccharides or also known as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) which are complex sugars. These complex sugars nourish the desirable bacteria and in turn provide a healthier GI tract.


Information from: Food Buyer Magazine-March 2006; Functional Foods Position Paper from The American Dietetic Association-April 2005, www.eatright.org. Nutrition Education for September 2008. Produced by Meals On Wheels, Inc., of Tarrant County by Sherry Simon, R.D./L.D. For questions regarding nutrition education contact: Sherry Simon, R.D./L.D., Director of Nutrition Services for Meals On Wheels, Inc. of Tarrant County at 817-336-0912 or email: ssimon@mealsonwheels.org. Website: www.mealsonwheels.org 

Posted in Nutritional Education.

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