Ever wonder the difference between salba and chia or what grass-fed beef really means? Our food glossary decodes the most common terms natural and organic food terms.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA):
A vitaminlike compound that acts like a powerful antioxidant, ALA is produced in the body in small amounts. It benefits people with type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and helping insulin in the blood get sugar into cells. ALA is present in many foods, including liver, spinach, and broccoli, but nutritional supplements contain much higher amounts.
This low-glycemic natural sweetener comes from the Mexican agave plant. For cooking, substitute 2/3 cup of agave nectar for 1 cup sugar. (Reduce other liquids in the recipe by 1 ounce per 2/3 cup agave nectar; decrease oven temperature by 25 degrees; and increase cooking time by 6 percent.) At grocery stores, you’ll find agave nectar in three forms: Amber, which has a dark color and rich maple flavor; light, which is translucent, with a mild and neutral taste; and raw, which is also clear and mild but processed at a lower temperature so it contains more enzymes.
These compounds from plant foods, including beta-carotene, vitamin C, and bioflavonoids, fight off cell attacking free radicals, or the unstable molecules your body produces when it’s exposed to environmental toxins. Antioxidants are most concentrated in the skin of fruits and veggies, so look for rich colored produce, which indicates high antioxidant levels. There are many forms of antioxidants with different effects on your body, so include a variety of fruits and veggies in your diet.
Antioxidants’ health benefits include boosting immunity, slowing the aging process, and fending off serious diseases like cancer and coronary heart disease. Consume antioxidant-rich foods, like acai and white tea, or apply them topically.
These synthetic dyes, used to correct and enhance food colors, are in most processed foods and many drugs. They’ve been linked to health concerns like allergic reactions and behavioral problems and may also increase the risk of some cancers. The FDA lists the color additives approved for use in food, cosmetics, and drugs, but some may still trigger negative responses. Avoid Yellow No. 5 (also called Tartrazine), which can cause allergic reactions like itching or hives, and Red No. 3, which has been associated with increased risk of tumors and cancer. Studies have also linked Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, and Red 3 to behavioral problems in children
Bioflavonoids (see "flavonoids")
The known endocrine disruptor found in hard plastics and canned goods is linked to reproductive disorders, behavioral problems in animals, and liver damage. It may also be a human metabolic syndrome risk factor and is toxic at low doses, according to the Environmental Working Group. Choose plastic alternatives to avoid BPA. Eden Foods, Henry & Lisa’s Natural Seafood and Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics are the first companies to launch BPA-free canned foods.
Cage-free hens aren’t confined to crowded pens in the coop. The USDA doesn’t regulate the term, but the United Egg Producers and American Humane Association labels help ensure producers meet strict standards for pecking space and ventilation.
See also Salba. Related to watercress, these tiny, gluten-free gray seeds from the Mexican Salvia hispanica plant are full of antioxidants, protein, and soluble fiber. As a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, the “superfood” helps the body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K from other foods. Eat to get an energy kick, level blood sugar, and digest food. Find the nutty tasting seeds in your grocery store’s bulk foods department.
Rather than using solvents, this chemical-free process uses pressure at low temperatures. The resulting oil has higher levels of some nutrients. Cook with cold-pressed oils to increase food’s nutritional value and replace petroleum-based skincare products with cold-pressed plant oils to moisturize skin.
Rich in antioxidants, members of this vegetable family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and turnips, may protect against cancer and boost immunity.
A label’s Daily Value (DV) percentage is the FDA’s recommended daily consumption level based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. Whether it is an upper or lower limit varies depending on nutrients. The DVs for fat, cholesterol, and sodium are upper daily limits.
The Environmental Working Group developed a list of the 12 fruits and veggies with the most pesticides, making them the most important to buy organic. The list consists of peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes (imported), spinach, pears and potatoes.
These extremely toxic chemicals are associated with cancer of the stomach, sinus lining, liver, and lymph system. Chlorine-bleached and rayon-containing products, such as some conventional tampons, may contain trace amounts. The main dietary culprits are animal fat, according to the FDA.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Another member of the omega-3 family, this essential fatty acid is also recommended for heart and brain health. Find it in fatty fish such like mackerel, salmon, and trout. The body converts alpha linolenic acid (ALA), found in flaxseed, into EPA in the body.
Rather than using solvents, expeller pressing compresses oilseeds and nuts to extract their oil. This process preserves the omega 3s and omega 6s from the original seed or nut, and the resulting oil is chemical free.
This olive oil results from the first pressing of the olives and is made without chemicals or high heat, so it contains higher polyphenol levels than other olive oil grades and less acidity (it has only 1 percent acid). Extra-virgin olive oil also contains the anti-inflammatory agent oleocanthal, and EVOO can keep hair and skin healthy. Replacing saturated fats with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, according to the FDA.
Fish farming uses various methods to grow or breed fish in enclosed environments. In general, avoid carnivorous farmed fish like shrimp, salmon and tuna, which often require wild fish feed—a nonsustainable farming practice. Farm-raised fish live in enclosed tanks so keepers can monitor water pollution, but some fish, like salmon, have high PCBs, antibiotic, dioxins, and mercury levels. Plus, fish and their waste can escape the farming area, harming the surrounding wildlife and habitat. The Seafood Watch recommends sustainable options such as inland-raised fish, like tilapia, catfish, and trout, and shellfish that require no supplemental feeding, like oysters, clams and mussels.
Fair trade practices ensure small farmers are not exploited. The resulting higher incomes reduce poverty and increase investment in education and healthcare. The TransFair USA certification standards also require sustainable practices and direct trade. The TransFair USA Fair Trade Certified label appears on food and beauty products. The Fair Trade Federation approves home accents and other handicrafts, but there is no official certified label for handicrafts at this time.
Insoluble fiber is the coarse part of a plant that doesn’t dissolve in water, which adds bulk to stool and moves toxins out of the colon. Find it in whole wheat and whole grain products and vegetables like Brussels sprouts, turnips, and cauliflower. Soluble Fiber, also found in plants, binds to dietary cholesterol to help the body eliminate it and reduce LDL levels. Its functions also include easing IBS symptoms and other digestive problems. Oatbran, barley, legumes, and citrus are all good sources.
Commonly found in tea, grapes, berries, onions, apples,and cocoa, these plant-based antioxidant compounds fight cancer and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Meaningless on beef, this USDA term basically applies only to poultry and means the egg-laying hens had outdoor access. Neither “free range” nor “cage free” labels are regulated, so look for the United Egg Producers (unitedegg.org) and American Humane Association logos, which indicate producers met strict standards requiring more cage space and better ventilation.
Genetically modified organism (GMO) / Genetic engineering (GE)
To create a GMO, scientists inject a host organism with a foreign gene that will help it resist pesticides, pests, or freezing. Scientists also inject a virus or bacteria to encourage the foreign gene’s invasion and an antibiotic marker gene to determine if the process worked. Because debate over the safety of GMOs continues, the FDA provides testing and regulation updates. But the USDA doesn’t label genetically modified foods. The only way to be sure you’re not eating GMOs is by choosing products from certified organic producers, who agree not to use genetically modified seeds or ingredients.
Gluten, an elastic protein the gives a chewy texture to wheat, rye, barley, and can cause digestive distress for people with gluten sensitivities or the autoimmune
disorder celiac disease. Always check packaged product labels to avoid wheat, barley, rye, farina, graham flour, semolina, durum, bulgur, kamut, kasha, matzo meal, spelt (a form of wheat), and triticale Unless common foods like breads, cereals, crackers, and pasta specify “gluten free” or are made with quinoa, buckwheat, millet, corn, or rice, they probably contain the protein. Malt flavoring and modified food starch additives, medications, vitamins, lipstick, and toothpaste often contain gluten too. For a list of gluten-free shopping resources check out celiac.org/lifestyle/grocery.php. Note that oats do not inherently contain gluten unless they have been contaminated during processing.
View our Gluten-Free recipes here.
Grass fed or Pasture finished
Raised on grass or hay rather than grain, grass-fed cattle contain more heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef. The USDA does not regulate this label. Grass fed cattle may contain antibiotics or hormones and be fed in the feedlot.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
The highly processed sweetener and preservative is manufactured from chemically altered cornstarch and abounds in sodas and other sweetened beverages, cereal, bread, yogurt, and salad dressing. Its GI level (glycemic index, which determines how fast carbohydrates convert to glucose in the blood) is 90—higher than table (white) sugar and honey—and its concentrated calories can increase the risk of obesity, according to the American Dietetic Association. The FDA still allows foods containing the sweetener to have a “natural” label. Learn how to cut back on HFCS.
I, J, K, L
The average food item travels 1,550 to 2,480 miles across the United States to reach your dinner table, according to foodroutes.org. By buying local, or closer to home, your food travels a shorter distance, which helps reduce global warming and air pollution and supports local farmers. There is no specific definition, but many consumers say it should be “produced within a 100-mile radius of their homes.” The Natural Resources Defense Council helps you find the freshest, closet food—now.
A group of San Francisco women proposed only eating food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius of the city—and called it locavore. In 2007, it became the New Oxford American Dictionary word of the year, meaning a person who favors locally produced food over food produced in other regions.
The prominent antioxidant in tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit also gives these foods their color and may fight cancer by preventing free radicals from binding with oxygen. Its other health benefits may include protecting against age related macular degeneration, reducing the risk of lung damage, and thinning the blood of people with type 2 diabetes to help decrease the chance of clots and associated heart troubles.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
MSG, the sodium salt of glutamic acid (an amino acid), is a form of glutamate, which is naturally present in protein containing foods like cheese, milk, meat, peas, and mushrooms as well as in your body. A fermenting process using starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses, creates the MSG that is now used to enhance flavors in meat, soup, salad dressing, chips, frozen entrees, and restaurant foods. The additive may be harmful to nerve cells, contribute to ADHD, and trigger migraines. Other reactions to MSG include nausea, weakness, difficulty breathing, and burning sensations in the back of the neck and forearms. Don’t just scan labels for MSG—it can hide under different names like autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, hydrolyzed plant protein, and hydrolyzed protein.
Because no federal rules legislate what constitutes a natural product, there is no clear meaning of the term. While the FDA simply won’tdefine it, the USDA’s “natural” label doesn’t verify that meat is hormone and antibiotic free. Until the FDA clearly defines natural and the USDA regulates it, look for the USDA certified organic label, which ensures specific standards are tightly regulated.
No hormones (Hormone free)
Ranchers can obtain this label with proper documentation, but the USDA doesn’t check up on the claims. The USDA prohibits hormone use in poultry and hogs, so the label cannot appear on these products unless followed by a statement saying, "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."
Omega-3 fatty acids
These essential fatty acids, found in foods like wild salmon and flaxseed, improve heart health and may also help prevent and treat arthritis, diabetes, depression, types of cancer, skin disorders, eye diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, menstrual pain and PMS.
USDA certified organic beef is raised on grass or grain-based feed that does not contain animal by-products, animals are never given antibiotics (unless required by a veterinarian, and then the animal loses organic status) or growth hormones and cattle must have “conditions which allow for exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species” and “access to pasture.” Organic standards are the strictest currently available.
Organic body care
Body care products displaying the USDA seal contain at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients, excluding water and salt. “100 percent organic” USDA certified products don’t contain synthetic ingredients or parabens, a cosmetic and personal care product preservative and antimicrobial agent that may be associated with breast tumors in women and decreased testosterone in men. But remember: The USDA doesn’t regulate labeling of cosmetics, body care products, and personal care products that aren’t made from agricultural ingredients. If you can’t purchase organic, avoid products listing parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben or butylparaben) and look for the “paraben free” label.
Organic ranching practices ensure cows are free of growth hormones, harmful pesticide residues, and antibiotics—so the cows’ milk is too. Organic dairy cattle aren’t given recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) like most conventional dairy cows. Bovine growth hormone has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers.
Hens fed a 100 percent organic diet containing no hormones or animal by-products produce USDA organic eggs. Hens also must have some access to the outdoors, but the label doesn’t mean they were raised in cage-free or free-range environments.
Foods labeled 100 Percent Organic are made entirely from certified organic ingredients and those labeled Organic are made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients, both earning the USDA Organic seal. Foods labeled Made with Organic Ingredients have 70 percent organic ingredients but no USDA seal.
These practices guarantee produce and meat was grown or raised without toxic and synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, antibiotics or growth hormones, genetically modified organisms and irradiation. Learn why going organic is important.
Organic fruits and vegetables are free of pesticides, the chemicals used to prevent, destroy, or repel pests. This means they are not only better for the environment, but may also contain more antioxidants than conventional produce, according to the Organic Center. Eating organic produce may also help you avoid health problems associated with eating conventionally grown produce.
To get the USDA seal, organic wine must contain only organically grown grapes and also have no added sulfites—a preservative commonly used in wine production. California Certified Organic Farmers is an organic certifier that certifies wine to the USDA National Organic Program standards and CCOF international standards.
These plant membrane components resemble the chemical structure of animal cholesterol and appear naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, cereals, legumes, and vegetable oils. Plant sterols can reduce bad cholesterol, according to the International Food Information Council and are added to packaged foods for heart-health benefits.
This antioxidant is present in berries, acai, oranges, dry legumes, chocolate, and plant derived beverages, including tea, pomegranate juice, and red wine. Polyphenols, the most abundant antioxidant in our diets, may help prevent cardiovascular diseases, cancers, osteoporosis, neurodegenerative diseases, and diabetes mellitus, reports the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Polyunsaturated fats, commonly found in vegetable oils and fatty fish, contain more than one double-bonded (unsaturated) carbon in the molecule. Foods high in polyunsaturated fats include soybean, corn, and safflower oils, walnuts, salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout, according to the American Heart Association. Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids, two common polyunsaturated fats your body can’t product on its own, have health benefits including lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease. They may even increase brain function.
These soluble fiber and antioxidant compounds support probiotic numbers in your gut. By encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract, prebiotics make probiotics more effective. They can also enhance calcium and magnesium absorption. Some prebiotic-rich food options are whole-wheat products, fresh herbs, peanuts, barley, beans, bananas, asparagus, cherries, eggplant, peas, onions, tea, and oats. See also Probiotics and Synbiotics.
Preservatives keep foods fresh and inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeasts, or molds. Look for products with natural preservatives, like rosemary, vitamin E, vitamin C, citrus, honey and essential oils, which replace synthetic ingredients to maintain food’s freshness. Vitamin E may appear on labels as alpha tocopherol and vitamin C under the name ascorbic acid. Preservatives like sulfites can cause allergic reactions, and others like BHT and BHA may be carcinogenic in high doses Nitrites, used to preserve meats like ham, bacon, salami, and hot dogs, have been linked to cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eliminating all nitrite-preserved meats from your diet to avoid harmful preservatives. And note that even naturally preserved meats contain nitrates and nitrites.
These strains of beneficial bacteria reestablish healthy intestinal flora in the human body. By taking up room and resources in the digestive tract, probiotics protect the digestive tract from unhealthy microbes. Common strains include Bifidobacteria infantis and Lactobacillus acidophilus. Look for cultured foods, like yogurt, cheese, tofu, and cottage cheese, or incorporate probiotics into your diet with supplements. See also Prebiotics and Synbiotics.
One of many abbreviations found on food and supplement labels, Reference Daily Intake replaces USRDA, which is the reference value for vitamins, minerals, and protein in voluntary nutrition labeling. The actual values (with the exception of protein) remain the same.
Salba. See also Chia.
This variety of chia is richer in omega-3s and protein than common chia. The whole grain may also reduce blood pressure in diabetes patients, reports The American Diabetes Association. Consume it whole or sprinkle on top of other foods. Read more about Salba here.
Overconsumption of saturated fats, primarily from red meat and dairy, may contribute to high blood cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association. To consume less, opt for low-fat or nonfat dairy, replace beef with bison and know the composition of fats in common cooking oils. But some plant-based saturated fats, like those in coconut, favorably affect LDL cholesterol, and can help lower heart disease risk, aid with weight loss, boost immunity, and fight cancer. Saturated fats should be limited to 10 percent of calories. Eat less than 2 grams of animal-derived saturated fat each day. See also Trans Fats.
While some salts, like the traditional table variety, can contain iodine and other additives, unrefined sea salt is additive free and contains more micro-nutrients and trace minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Made from evaporated seawater, sea salt has a grainy texture and pure taste.
Slow Food Movement Begun in Italy as a countermovement to “fast food,” the Slow Food movement believes in rekindling interest in fresh foods, farmers, community, and food culture—and raises awareness about how what we eat affects us and our world. Be a slow foodie by developing personal food-based traditions, savoring the meals you prepare, eating locally grown and produced foods, and participating in your local food community. To get in touch with Slow Food in your area, go to slowfoodusa.org.
The calorie-free, carb-free, low-glycemic sugar alternative that comes from the South American stevia plant doesn’t spike blood sugar, making it safe for diabetics. Find it as a powder or liquid in the dietary supplements aisle. The FDA also recently approved it as a food additive, but you may still need to look for it in the supplements section of your natural products store.
One of many common food additives, these sulfur based preservatives prevent discoloration and black spots in food like baked goods, beer, canned fruits and vegetables, condiments, dried fruit, jams, molasses, pickled foods, potato chips, shrimp, frozen soup mixes, tea, trail mix, vegetable juice, and wine. Sulfites can destroy food’s vitamin B1 and cause sensitivities, allergic reactions, and headaches. If you may have sensitivities, avoid foods with labels listing sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium sulfite, sodium bisulfite, and sodium metabisulfite, opting instead for sulfite-free, or unsulfured versions.
This is way of consciously using a resource so that resource is not permanently damaged and the negative environmental impacts of production and transportation are minimal. With the exception of seafood, there is no way to verify if the products you buy are sustainable, so look for producers that are creating sustainable codes, like California winegrowers in the Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Also purchase USDA organic, Fair Trade Certified, and locally grown foods. To help make your daily food habits more sustainable (http://blog.deliciouslivingmag.com/blog/2008/05/21/the-future-of-sustain...), consume less beef, eat farther down in the food chain, and cook with local, seasonal ingredients.
Farmers can reduce long-term negative affects of their practices by following an integrated plant and animal production system that satisfies human needs, enhancing environmental and societal quality and efficiently using resources, according to the USDA. However, the USDA does not regulate the term at this time. Because organic farming prohibits toxic and synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, organic practices are better for the environment and generally more sustainable than conventional.
Fish that have been caught or farmed sustainably include Pacific halibut, Dungeness crab, farmed mussels, and wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Steer clear of Chilean sea bass, farmed Atlantic salmon, sharks, imported farmed or wild-caught shrimp, imported swordfish, red snapper, and imported bluefin tuna—many of which are not only endangered but also predators filled mercury and other contaminants. For a complete, up-to-date list go to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list and look for the Marine Stewardship Council’s seal on seafood products.
In 2003, California-based physician Steven Pratt, M.D. popularized the term “superfood” with his diet based on 14 foods with the most proven health benefits and least negative properties, like sodium and saturated fats. Though there are no set standards or legal definitions for the term, the list of phytonutrient powerhouses is growing, including citrus, dark green vegetables, olive oil, olives, tomatoes, blueberries, pomegranate, cranberries, acai, green tea, shiitake mushrooms, flaxseed, whole grains, pumpkin, yogurt, soy, walnuts, and garlic. Proven health benefits of superfoods include protecting against heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer.
Probiotics are delivered with a prebiotic-fibre feed stock to enhance effects, including improving gut function, promoting resistance to gastrointestinal infections, soothing irritable bowel syndrome, and reducing the risk of some chronic gut disorders. Synbiotics can take the form of everything from dairy to baked goods.
Trans fatty acids form when hydrogen is added to a liquid fat, changing its melting properties so it remains solid at room temperature. During hydrogenation, carbon bonds fold against their natural direction, forming the artificially saturated fat. Commonly used in processed foods to improve shelf life, flavor stability, and texture of products, trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (good) cholesterol, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease, according to the FDA. They may also increase risk of diabetes and some types of cancer and can hide in foods like dairy and frozen or microwavable meals. Even if labels claim the food has “zero trans fats,” the product could still contain less than1 gram.
Vegan diets exclude flesh, fish, fowl, dairy products, eggs, honey, animal gelatin, and all other foods and ingredients of animal origin. Vegans also avoid purchasing animal-derived products like leather, wool, fur, and silk from their clothing and upholstery. The Vegan Action (www.vegan.org) is behind the Certified Vegan Logo, which signifies food or beauty products contain absolutely no animal products. See also Vegetarian.
Vegetarians don’t eat meat, fish and poultry, a diet claiming lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein and higher levels of antioxidants, folate and magnesium than meat-based diets, according to the American Dietetic Association. Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but exclude eggs, while lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy and eggs. A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is more sustainable than meat-based diet, reports the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Find vegetarian supplements, fit all vital nutrients into your children’s vegetarian menus and use a primarily vegetarian diet, rich in proteins and low in fat and carbs, as an everyday detox. Also check out the FDA’s vegetarian nutrition resources. See also Vegan.
While natural, unmonitored environments can expose fish to pollutants, wild-caught fish—particularly salmon -often contain lower levels of PCBs than farm-raised. The Marine Stewardship Council seal indicates that fishing practices were sustainable.