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Glossary of nutritional labels

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Glossary of Nutritional Fact Labels

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In medicine, the state of having the right amount of acid

and base in the blood and other body fluids. Keeping a

normal acid-base balance is important for the body to

work the way it should. Also called acid-base equilibrium.

A large organic molecule that is the basic building block

of proteins. There are 20 different amino acids that link

together in various order to form proteins. The order of

amino acids is determined by the genetic sequence.

A substance that protects cells from the damage caused

by free radicals (unstable molecules made by the process

of oxidation during normal metabolism). Free radicals may

play a part in cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other

diseases of aging. Antioxidants include beta-carotene,

lycopene, vitamins A, C, and E, and other natural and

manufactured substances.


A unit commonly used to measure energy content of

foods and beverages as well as energy use (expenditure)

by the body. A calorie is equal to the amount of energy

(heat) required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water

1 degree centigrade. Energy is required to sustain the

body’s various functions, including metabolic processes

and physical activity. Carbohydrate, fat, protein, and

alcohol provide all of the energy supplied by foods

and beverages.

The balance between calories consumed through eating

and drinking and calories expended through physical

activity and metabolic processes.

One of three macronutrients in food that provide calories,

or “energy” for the body. There are several types of

carbohydrate: sugars, sugar alcohols, starches, and

dietary fiber.

Heart disease as well as diseases of the blood vessel

system (arteries, capillaries, veins) that can lead to heart

attack, chest pain (angina), or stroke.

The membrane surrounding a cell that separates the cell

from its external environment and regulates the transport

of materials entering and exiting the cell. It consists of a

phospholipid bilayer and associated proteins.

A natural sterol present in all animal tissues. Free

cholesterol is a component of cell membranes and

serves as a precursor for steroid hormones (estrogen,

testosterone, aldosterone), and for bile acids. Humans

are able to synthesize sufficient cholesterol to meet

biologic requirements, and there is no evidence for a

dietary requirement for cholesterol.

Cholesterol that travels in the serum of the blood as

distinct particles containing both lipids and proteins

(lipoproteins). Also referred to as serum cholesterol.

There are two kinds of lipoproteins: high-density

lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein

(LDL) cholesterol.

Cholesterol found in foods of animal origin, including meat,

seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Plant foods

(such as beans, fruits, grains, nuts, peas, seeds, vegetables,

and vegetable oils) do not contain dietary cholesterol.


The amount of a nutrient (in grams, milligrams, or

micrograms) recommended per day for Americans

4 years of age and older. The Nutrition Facts Label lists

the Daily Values for some key nutrients. These are given

for both a 2,000 and 2,500 calorie daily diet.

A disorder of metabolism—the way the body uses

digested food (specifically carbohydrate) for growth and

energy. In diabetes, the pancreas either produces little or

no insulin (a hormone that helps glucose, the body’s main

source of fuel, get into cells), or the cells do not respond

appropriately to the insulin that is produced, which causes

too much glucose to be released in the blood. The three

main types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational

diabetes. If not controlled, diabetes can lead to serious


An eating plan designed to increase intake of foods

expected to lower blood pressure while being heart

healthy and meeting nutrient recommendations. It is

available at specific calorie levels. It was adapted from

the dietary pattern developed for the DASH research

trials. In the trials, the DASH dietary pattern lowered blood

pressure and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol

levels, resulting in reduced cardiovascular disease risk.

The DASH Eating Plan is low in saturated fats and rich in

potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as dietary

fiber and protein. It also is lower in sodium than the typical

American diet, and includes menus with two levels of

sodium, 2,300 and 1,500 mg per day. It meets the Dietary

Reference Intakes for all essential nutrients and stays

within limits for overconsumed nutrients, while allowing

adaptable food choices based on food preferences, cost,

and availability.

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A beverage that contains caffeine as an ingredient, along

with other ingredients, such as taurine, herbal supplements,

vitamins, and added sugars. It is usually marketed as a

product that can improve perceived energy, stamina,

athletic performance, or concentration.

The addition of specific nutrients (i.e., iron, thiamin,

riboflavin, and niacin) to refined grain products in order to

replace losses of the nutrients that occur during processing.

Enrichment of refined grains is not mandatory; however,

those that are labeled as enriched (e.g., enriched flour)

must meet the standard of identity for enrichment set by

FDA. When cereal grains are labeled as enriched, it is

mandatory that they be fortified with folic acid.

A protein that speeds up chemical reactions in the body.

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Foods designed for ready availability, use, or consumption

and sold at eating establishments for quick availability

or take-out. Fast food restaurants also are known as

quick-service restaurants.

Fatty acids that have one double bond and are usually

liquid at room temperature. Plant sources rich in

monounsaturated fats include vegetable oils (e.g., canola,

olive, high oleic safflower and sunflower), as well as nuts.

Fatty acids that have two or more double bonds and are

usually liquid at room temperature. Primary sources are

vegetable oils and some nutsand seeds. Polyunsaturated

fats provide essential fats such as n-3 and n-6 fatty acids.

Fatty acids that have no double bonds. Saturated fats are

usually solid at room temperature. Major sources include

animal products (e.g., meats and dairy products) and

tropical oils (e.g., coconut and palm oils).

Fats that are usually not liquid at room temperature. Solid

fats are found in animal foods, except for seafood, and

can be made from vegetable oils through hydrogenation.

Some tropical oil plants, such as coconut and palm, are

considered as solid fats due to their fatty acid composition.

Solid fats contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats

than liquid oils (e.g., soybean, canola, and corn oils), with

lower amounts of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated

fatty acids. Common fats considered to be solid fats

include: butter, beef fat (tallow), chicken fat, pork fat (lard),

shortening,coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil. Foods

high in solid fats include: full-fat (regular) cheeses, creams,

whole milk, ice cream, marbled cuts of meats, regular

ground beef, bacon, sausages, poultry skin, and many

baked goods made with solid fats (such as cookies,

crackers, doughnuts, pastries, and croissants).

One of three macronutrients in food that provide calories,

or “energy,” for the body. There are two types of fat:

saturated and unsaturated.

Unsaturated fatty acids that are structurally different from

the unsaturated fatty acids that occur naturally in plant

foods. Sources of trans fat include partially hydrogenated

vegetable oils used in processed foods (e.g., desserts,

microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, some margarines, and

coffee creamer). Trans fats also are present naturally in

foods that come from ruminant animals (e.g., cattle and

sheep), such as dairy products, beef, and lamb.

Dietary fiber consists of non-digestible carbohydrates and

lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants (i.e., the fiber

naturally occurring in foods).000 calorie diet.

A method of grouping similar foods for descriptive and

guidance purposes. Food groups are defined as vegetables,

fruits, grains, dairy, and protein foods. Some of these

groups are divided into subgroups, such as dark-green

vegetables or whole grains, which may have intake goals

or limits. Foods are grouped within food groups based on

their similarity in nutritional composition and other dietary

benefits. For assignment to food groups, mixed dishes are

disaggregated into their major component parts.

The deliberate addition of one or more essential nutrients

to a food, whether or not it is normally contained in the

food. Fortification may be used to prevent or correct a

demonstrated deficiency in the population or specific

population groups; restore naturally occurring nutrients

lost during processing, storage, or handling; or to add a

nutrient to a food at the level found in a comparable

traditional food. When cereal grains are labeled as enriched,

it is mandatory that they be fortified with folic acid.

All fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruit but not fruit juice.

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A simple form of sugar that acts as the body’s fuel. It is

produced when foods are metabolized in the digestive

system and carried by the blood to cells for energy.

Grains and grain products with the bran and germ

removed; any grain product that is not a whole-grain

product. Many refined grains are low in fiber but enriched

with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron, and fortified with

folic acid.

Grains and grain products made from the entire grain

seed, usually called the kernel, which consists of the bran,

germ, and endosperm. If the kernel has been cracked,

crushed, or flaked, it must retain the same relative

proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm as the original

grain in order to be called whole grain. Many, but not all,

whole grains are also sources ofdietary fiber.


A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being

and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Chemicals produced by glands in the body and circulated

in the bloodstream. Hormones control the actions of

certain cells or organs.

A condition, also known as high blood pressure, in which

blood pressure remains elevated over time. Hypertension

makes the heart work too hard, and the high force of the

blood flow can harm arteries and organs, such as the

heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes. Uncontrolled hypertension

can lead to heart attacks, heart failure, kidney disease,

stroke, and blindness. Prehypertension is defined as blood

pressure that is higher than normal but not high enough to

be defined as hypertension.

The ingredient list on a food package is usually located

near the name of the food’s manufacturer and often below

the Nutrition Facts Label. It shows each ingredient in a

food by its common or usual name in descending order

by weight. The ingredient with the greatest contribution

to the product weight is listed first, and the ingredient

contributing the least by weight is listed last.


A dietary component that provides energy. Macronutrients

include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and alcohol.

Foods that come from the flesh of land animals (e.g., all

forms of beef, pork, lamb, veal, goat, and non-bird game)

and birds (e.g., all forms of chicken, turkey, duck, geese,

guineas, and game birds). Organs (such as liver) are also

considered to be meat or poultry.

Any meat or poultry that contains less than 10 g of fat,

4.5 g or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of

cholesterol per 100 g and per labeled serving size, based

on USDA definitions for food label use. Examples include

95% lean cooked ground beef, beef top round steak or

roast, beef tenderloin, pork top loin chop or roast, pork

tenderloin, ham or turkey deli slices, skinless chicken

breast, and skinless turkey breast.

All meat or poultry products preserved by smoking, curing,

salting, and/or the addition of chemical preservatives.

Processed meats and poultry include all types of meat or

poultry sausages (e.g., bologna, frankfurters, luncheon

meats and loaves, sandwich spreads, chorizo, kielbasa,

pepperoni, salami, and Vienna and summer sausages),

bacon, smoked or cured ham or pork shoulder, corned

beef, pastrami, pig’s feet, beef jerky, marinated chicken

breasts, and smoked turkey products.

The set of chemical reactions that occur in living organisms

in order to maintain life, and refers to the way cells

chemically change food so that it can be used to store

or use energy and make the proteins, fats, and sugars

needed by the body.

An essential nutrient, such as a trace mineral or vitamin

that is required by an organism in smaller amounts. All

nutrients other than proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and

water (macronutrients) are micronutrients.

Inorganic substances that are required by the body in

relatively small amounts (also called micronutrients) for

normal growth and activity.

Savory food items eaten as a single entity that include

foods from more than one food group. These foods

often are mixtures of grains, protein foods, vegetables,

and/or dairy. Examples of mixed dishes include burgers,

sandwiches, tacos, burritos, pizzas, macaroni and cheese,

stir-fries, spaghetti and meatballs, casseroles, soups, egg

rolls, and Caesar salad.

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A substance in food that contributes to growth and health;

nutrients provide energy, cell building and structural

materials, and agents that regulate body chemistry.

Nutrients include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins,

minerals, and water.

A characteristic of foods and beverages that provide

vitamins, minerals, and other substances that contribute

to adequate nutrient intakes or may have positive health

effects, with little or no saturated fats, added sugars,

refined starches, and sodium. Ideally, these foods and

beverages also are in forms that retain naturally occurring

components, such as dietary fiber. All vegetables, fruits,

whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, unsalted

nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and

lean meats and poultry—when prepared with little or no

added saturated fats, sugars, refined starches, and

sodium—are nutrient-dense foods. These foods contribute

to meeting food group recommendations within calorie

and sodium limits. The term “nutrient dense” indicates the

nutrients and other beneficial substances in a food have

not been “diluted” by the addition of calories from added

saturated fats, sugars, or refined starches, or by the solid

fats naturally present in the food.

A vitamin, mineral, fatty acid, or amino acid required for

normal body functioning that either cannot be synthesized

by the body at all, or cannot be synthesized in amounts

adequate for good health, and thus must be obtained

from a dietary source. Other food components, such as

dietary fiber, while not essential, also are considered to

be nutrients.

Nutrients that are overconsumed or underconsumed

and current intakes may pose a substantial public

health concern. Data on nutrient intake, corroborated

with biochemical markers of nutritional status where

available, and association with health outcomes are all

used to establish a nutrient as a nutrient of concern.

Underconsumed nutrients, or “shortfall nutrients,” are

those with a high prevalence of inadequate intake either

across the U.S. population or in specific groups, relative

to expert group standards. Overconsumed nutrients are

those with a high prevalence of excess intake either

across the population or in specific groups, relative to

expert group standards.

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A condition marked by an abnormally high, unhealthy

amount of body fat.

Fats that are liquid at room temperature. Oils come from

many different plants and some fish. Some common oils

include canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean,

and sunflower oils. A number of foods are naturally high

in oils such as nuts, olives, some fish, and avocados.

Foods that are mainly made up of oil include mayonnaise,

certain salad dressings, and soft (tub or squeeze) margarine

with no trans fats. Oils are higher in monounsaturated

or polyunsaturated fats, and lower in saturated fats than

solid fats. A few plant oils, termed tropical oils (including

coconutoil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil), are high in

saturated fats and for nutritional purposes should be

considered as solid fats. Partially hydrogenated oils that

contain trans fats should also be considered as solid fats

for nutritional purposes.

The Percent Daily Value (%DV) on the Nutrition Facts

Label shows how much of a nutrient is in one serving of

the food. The %DVs are based on the Daily Values for key

nutrients, which are the amounts (in grams, milligrams,

or micrograms) of nutrients recommended per day for

Americans 4 years of age and older. The %DV is the

percentage of the Daily Value for each nutrient in one

serving of the food.

Any bodily movement produced by the contraction of

skeletal muscle that increases energy expenditure above

a basal level; generally refers to the subset of physical

activity that enhances health.

The amount of a food served or consumed in one eating

occasion. A portion is not a standardized amount, and the

amount considered to be a portion is subjective and varies.

One of three macronutrients in food that provide calories,

or “energy,” for the body. Proteins are composed of

amino acids and are a major functional and structural

component of every animal cell.

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Marine animals that live in the sea and in freshwater lakes

and rivers. Seafood includes fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, trout,

and tilapia) and shellfish (e.g., shrimp, crab, and oysters).

Serving Size on the Nutrition Facts Label is the amount

of food that is customarily eaten at one time and is

determined based on the Reference Amounts Customarily

Consumed (RACC) for foods that have similar dietary

usage, product characteristics, and customarily consumed

amounts for consumers to make “like product”


A mineral and an essential nutrient needed by the human

body in relatively small amounts (provided that substantial

sweating does not occur). Sodium is important for many

body processes, such as fluid balance, muscle contraction,

and nervous system function. Sodium is primarily consumed

as salt (sodium chloride).

Many glucose units linked together into long chains.

Examples of foods containing starch include beans and

peas (e.g., garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lentils, and

split peas), grains (e.g., barley, brown rice, corn, oats,

and wheat), and vegetables (e.g., carrots and potatoes).

A type of carbohydrate that chemically has characteristics

of both sugars and alcohols. Sugar alcohols are found

naturally in small amounts in a variety of fruits and

vegetables and are also commercially produced from

sugars and starch. Commercially produced sugar alcohols

are added to foods as reduced-calorie sweeteners and are

found in many sugar-free and reduced-sugar products.

Composed of one unit (a monosaccharide, such as

glucose or fructose) or two joined units (a disaccharide,

such as lactose or sucrose). Sugars include those

occurring naturally in foods and beverages and those

added to foods and beverages during processing and


Syrups and other caloric sweeteners used as a sweetener

in other food products. Naturally occurring sugars such as

those in fruit or milk are not added sugars. Added sugars

are included on the ingredient list on food and beverage

packages. Specific examples of added sugars that can

be listed as an ingredient include: brown sugar, corn

sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose sweetener,

fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup,

honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, maple

syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sucrose,

trehalose, and turbinado sugar.

Liquids that are sweetened with various forms of added

sugars. These beverages include, but are not limited to,

soda (regular, not sugar-free), fruitades, sports drinks,

energy drinks, sweetened waters, and coffee and tea

beverages with added sugars.

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A diverse assortment of foods and beverages across and

within all food groups and subgroups selected to fulfill

the recommended amounts without exceeding the limits

for calories and other dietary components. For example,

in the vegetables food group, selecting a variety of foods

could be accomplished over the course of a week by

choosing from all subgroups, including dark green, red

and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and

other vegetables.

Organic substances that are required by the body in

relatively small amounts (also called micronutrients) for

normal growth and activity.

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