Over the years in this space, we have covered hundreds of topics related to nutrition and health, touching on many of the supplements and vitamins that address specific areas of what makes our bodies work and what we can do to optimize our health and keep our minds and bodies fine-tuned.
In doing so, we have repeatedly mentioned dozens of words and phrases to help explain nutritional science, usually without pausing to define the words that help us describe the bigger picture. Terms such as vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbs, etc. Perhaps there has been a fair amount of presumption on our part in throwing around these words with such gleeful abandon.
It’s time to hit the brakes – a time to make amends. It’s time to take a timeout and offer a primer on nutritional terminology. In doing so, we reveal the relationships among some of these familiar terms, providing you with a glossary of sorts that we trust will help clarify things going forward here. We offer these definitions and explanations to some of the most commonly-used terms in alphabetical order (of course). Sources used in putting this handy glossary together included quizlet.com, medlineplus.gov, and webmd.com:
- Calories. If you took high school chemistry, this might ring a bell: a calorie is defined as the amount of heat (i.e. energy) it takes to raise the temperature of a gram of water by 1 degree Centigrade. It is a measurement of a food’s total energy available for the body to use, with those calories not used stored as fat.
- Herbs. Per Merriam-Webster, it’s “a plant or plant part valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities.” Many herbs make their way into supplement form, such as berberine and turmeric.
- Enzymes. Per National Institutes of Health, these are substances that accelerate the body’s chemical reactions.
- Vitamins. Per quizlet.com, “an organic compound that organisms need in miniscule amounts for healthy growth and development.”
- Carbohydrates. One of the main types of nutrients, they are converted into glucose (blood sugar) once in the digestive system. This glucose is then used as energy for cells, tissues, and organs.
- Protein. An organic polymer that consists of amino acid subunits. Huh? OK, let’s break it down a bit. Protein serves several purposes in the body, including a role in manufacturing structures such as muscle and hair, and as an energy source.
- Fiber. The part of edible, cellulose-based plants that can’t be digested, otherwise known as “roughage,” which is useful in pushing food through the digestive system. It’s a type of carbohydrate that can also make you fuller, longer, therefore serving as a good source for controlling what you eat, helping you to lose weight, as needed.
- Minerals. Chemical elements that living organisms need to survive. The human body requires 16 minerals that bolster biochemical processes thanks to their involvement in cell structure and function, among other roles.
- Amino acids. Building blocks for proteins, some of which are produced by the body and others provided by ingested food. These are absorbed into the body through the small intestine, then transported by blood throughout the body.
- Electrolytes. Minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium found in the body’s fluids. When we get dehydrated, our body has a deficiency in fluids and electrolytes.
- Nutrients. Chemical compounds contained in food that help us maintain health and keep our body functioning properly. Examples include proteins, fats, and minerals.
- Nutrition. In a nutshell, it’s a field of study concerned with foods and compounds within food that aid animals (to include humans) and plants, helping them to function properly and maintain health.
- Triglycerides. A type of fat located in the bloodstream, too much of which can raise the chances of coronary artery disease.
- Cholesterol. Described by medlineplus.gov as a “waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body.” Some cholesterol is essential for making hormones, vitamin D, and substances involved in digestion. Our bodies make sufficient cholesterol to serve its purposes, but the substance becomes a problem of excess when we eat foods laden with cholesterol.
- Metabolism. The process our body uses to acquire more energy from the food that we consume.