If language is what sets humans apart from animals, then the words we use to describe nutrition, health, diet and wellbeing occasionally leave humanity confused. Not even the best-educated human beings can always understand the jargon of nutrition. We put together our own “nutritionary” – a dictionary to help decipher the nutrition terms thrown around in the media, research papers and journals.
- All natural
- Australian Dietary Guidelines
- Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
- Body Mass Index
- Glycemic Index
- Health Star Rating
- Nutrition Information Panel
This term can literally mean anything. Some claims made on food and drink packaging say a processed food or drink is “natural” or “all natural” or even “made with natural ingredients”. “Natural” and “All natural” is an unregulated claim. Unlike the word “ certified organic”, which has strict requirements to meet as set by the certifying organisation, “natural” kinda, sorta, vaguely means the ingredients are close to their pure or original state. That doesn’t always mean it is the “healthy” option. The “natural” or “all natural” claim plays on the idea that natural is somehow better than artificial, and it’s likely this is true for some ingredients. However, not all “non-natural” ingredients are harmful. For example, ascorbic acid is a non-natural, lab-created form of Vitamin C which can deliver a stable source of the nutrient to manufactured foods.
Antioxidants can be found in a variety of different foods and studies have shown they help prevent damage to the body by mopping up ‘free radicals’, a bit like a magnet for the cellular waste your body creates. Some antioxidants are nutrients like vitamins A, C and E but others are minerals like copper, selenium and zinc. There are also non-nutrient antioxidants like phytochemicals and flavonoids, most commonly found in a range of fruit and vegetables. There are possibly thousands of substances that can act as antioxidants, each interacting with the body in a way to protect against the cell damage that free radicals cause, which have been linked to the diseases of ageing. A diet high in antioxidants may reduce the risk of things like heart disease or some cancers as they mop up the free radicals from the body and prevent inflammation. Antioxidants are more effective when consumed as whole foods rather than supplements, which is why the dietary guidelines encourage us to eat a wide range of whole foods such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. Some antioxidants are added to packaged foods to act as preservatives to extend the shelf life of food or prevent fresh fruit from going brown when cut. The greater variety of highly coloured vegetables and fruit you eat, the more antioxidants you are likely to be consuming and the greater protection you will get against disease.
ADG – Australian Dietary Guidelines
The nutrition world abounds with acronyms, and this one stands for the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which were most recently published in 2013 having been reviewed from the 2003 Guidelines. The federal government recommends we follow five key guidelines about the amount and kinds of food we need to eat for health and wellbeing. These five guidelines are:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods
- Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
- Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding
- Care for your food; prepare and store it safely
The Australian Dietary Guidelines are supported by the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, to help adults, older adults, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders eat the right types and amounts of food and drink every day.
AGTHE – Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
These visual guides are a resource to replace the old and well-known food pyramid that showed the five food groups. The Australian federal government now publishes eating guides that resemble a plate to reveal a more food-centric eating style showing every day and occasional foods. The Infant Feeding Guidelines were a new addition with the first release in 2012.
This is a scientific term to describe the proportion of a nutrient absorbed from food or supplements that can be used in the human body to support normal body function. It’s used in nutrition to describe the degree to which a nutrient enters a body’s metabolism – in other words, it’s the amount of the macronutrient – carbs, protein or fat – and micronutrient – like vitamin C or beta carotene – that gets absorbed into the body. When it comes to food, not all nutrients from meat, grains, fruits and veg can be used by the body in the same way. Understanding nutrient bioavailability helps set the best intake recommendations and how to best consume foods. For example, if you eat foods rich in non-haem iron (iron from plant-based sources) and combine it with a source of vitamin C like lemon juice, then it increases the bioavailability of the iron.
BMI – Body Mass Index
Body Mass Index is commonly used in a clinical setting to assess whether someone is overweight, underweight or obese. Body Mass Index is calculated by using your weight in kilograms and dividing it by your height in metres squared.
BMI = kg/m2 where kg is a person’s weight in kilograms and m2 is their height in metres squared.
- Under 18.5 is in the underweight range
- 18.5-24.9 is healthy weight range
- 25-29.9 is overweight range
- Above 30 is obese
The BMI isn’t appropriate for all population and age groups, so check with a doctor or dietitian to determine the best measures of your health.
GI – Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index is a measure of the way carbohydrates behave when digested. The more rapidly carbs break down into glucose and enter the blood stream, the higher the GI they will have. Lower GI carbohydrates sometimes contain more fibre (like wholegrains) and protein, which also slows down the digestion process. To help manage feelings of hunger and prevent insulin spikes, it is recommended to choose low GI carbohydrate foods most of the time instead of the higher GI choices.
HSR-Health Star Ratings
Packaged food and drinks can carry a health star rating of up to five stars to indicate the comparative ‘healthiness’ of the product within a category. The health star rating system applies in Australia and New Zealand as part of a front-of-pack labelling system to offer a simple visual guide to the overall nutritional profile of foods and drinks. It assigns a rating from half a star up to five stars, with more stars indicating a healthier choice. It’s a government-funded system which is free for food and drink manufacturers to use on their packaging. Foods and drinks that carry the label must use the Health Star Rating Calculator to find out how many stars the product will be allocated. This calculator is also known as the ‘HSR algorithm’ and is subject to change as better ways are found to calculate nutritional profiles of food and drink.
NIP – Nutrition Information Panel
All packaged food and drinks sold in Australia have a nutrition information panel which shows the average amount of energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium in a serve and in a 100 gram (or 100 mL)of the food. If the food or drink also has a health or nutrition claim, then the nutrition information about the health claim must also be published. For example, if a yoghurt makes a claim about containing calcium, then the amount of calcium will also be on the nutrition information panel. Some food and weight loss apps like My Fitness Pal or Weight Watchers use the nutrition information panel data on a packaged food to show users the macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fats – and the kilojoules of foods.
This word is a doozy, blending the word obese with the Latin word “genic”, meaning “causing”. It’s usually used in the context of an “obesogenic environment”, and describes a food environment that leads to the overconsumption of energy dense foods and drinks which lack nutrients and encourage weight gain combined with an environment that doesn’t promote activity. The word came into common usage in the late 1990s in relation to the rising obesity crisis and preventable lifestyle related diseases. With one in five Australians now obese, this term aims to put the focus on environmental change to help curb the obesity epidemic. Too often, individuals are blamed for their weight but the word obesogenic aims to encapsulate the physical, economic and social factors that make it difficult for individuals to maintain a healthy weight.
This is a made-up word and used loosely to associate foods with being magic bullets to solve our health and nutrition problems. Foods rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals are generally termed superfoods – everything from the acai berry to kale to chia seeds have been hailed as superfoods in the media, but in reality there is little scientific evidence into the amounts required for therapeutic or health gains. The fact is that all core foods from the five food groups are superfoods and should be enjoyed daily. Include core foods as much as possible to get the real superfoods in your diet every day.