Medical Glossary

Learn more about the terms you will hear at the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition.


Any substance that reduces oxidative damage to the body by free-radicals. Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants. These substances promote heart health and decreases the risk of cancer.


A form of Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found naturally in plant foods, mostly orange and dark green vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos, and kale.

BMI (Body Mass Index)

BMI determines a person’s relative weight for height, and a higher BMI is significantly linked with higher total body fat.


A mineral your body needs to help build strong bones and healthy teeth. Dairy products are especially good sources of calcium.


A macronutrient that the body uses for energy. They are a necessary part of a healthy diet for both children and adults. The two forms of carbohydrate are simple sugars and starches. Simple sugars can be found in foods that contain fructose, glucose, and lactose. Starches can be found in corn, peas, potatoes, beans, grains, rice, breads, and cereals. Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram.


Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in the bloodstream and in all of the body's cells. Cholesterol is used to form cell membranes, some hormones, as well as many other functions in the body. But a high level of cholesterol in the blood — hypercholesterolemia — is a major risk factor for heart disease, which leads to heart attack.


A mineral that is directly involved in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism.

Coenzyme Q10

A substance made by the body that is necessary for basic functioning of the cells. Coenzyme Q10 levels lower with age and in persons with some chronic conditions. Coenzyme Q10 is sold in a supplement form; beware, this supplement is not regulated by the FDA and taking this supplement remains controversial.

Cyanocobalamin (B-12)

An essential water soluble vitamin that is important for growth and general repair of the whole body. It is commonly found in a variety of foods such as fish, shellfish, meats, and dairy products.


Dairy is an entire food group high in protein and calcium which includes milk, cheese, yogurt. Look for low fat versions to save unnecessary calories. Key words to look for on labels are cheese made from Skim or 2% milk, drink Skin or 1% milk. Low Fat or Fat Free yogurts sweetened with Splenda or your own fresh fruit are also great choices.


A condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin (Type 1) or the body has a decreased ability to use insulin (Type 2). Insulin is a hormone that allows sugars to enter into the cells to be used for energy. When sugar can not get into the cells, it will cause high blood sugars.

Fad Diet

A term used to describe popular weight loss diets that promise dramatic weight loss through limiting or avoiding entire food groups. These diets do not promise long term success and are not very healthy, in fact some may even be dangerous.


A macronutrient that maintains healthy skin and hair, insulates the body, helps maintain body temperature, and promotes healthy cell functions. There are two types of fat, saturated and unsaturated fats. Both contain 9 calories per gram.

FDA (Food and Drug Administration)

The US government agency that regulates all foods and drugs on the market in the United States. Beware, the FDA does NOT have any control over dietary supplements.


The indigestible portion of plant foods that move through the digestive system and helps with feeling full. Fiber works to slow digestion, improve absorption of foods, and clean out the digestive system. Fiber is found in whole grain foods such as wheat barley, and oats. There are 2 types of fiber: insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber increases bulk and softens stool and can be found in celery, grains, and many crunchy foods. Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol and blood sugars, and can be found in apple juice and other fruits and vegetables.


A substance that may decrease the risk for cancer and other chronic diseases.

Folic Acid

A nutrient essential for protein digestion and plays an essential role for spinal cord development within the first few days of conception of a baby.


The process by which a nutrient (often vitamins, minerals, or proteins) is added to a commonly eaten food to improve the quality of the diet.


A natural type of simple sugar found in fruits. Beware, high fructose corn syrup does not contain the natural form of fructose. The chemical structure is changed through processing and then mixed with simple sugars. This substance is absorbed much more quickly into the blood compared to natural fructose found in fruits.


A dietary supplement which can affect blood sugar levels. Dietary supplements are still being tested to see if they are safe. There is no evidence that dietary supplements work as well or better than nutritious foods.


Glucose is a simple sugar. Glucose is the simplest form of a carbohydrate and is absorbed into the blood stream very quickly.


Generally Recognized as A Safe Snack. Your Registered Dietitian will provide examples of this!


HDL stands for high density lipoprotein which is a type of cholesterol often referred to as “good cholesterol” because it is associated with preventing heart disease. HDL is best maintained by exercising regularly.

Heart Disease

A term used to describe a number of diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels in the heart. Increased body fat, poor diet, family history, and lack of exercise can all contribute to the onset of heart disease.


The process of adding hydrogen atoms to unsaturated fats (liquid fat) to make them into saturated fats (solids). Some foods are created by partial hydrogenation, meaning that a liquid fat (oil) is turned into a semi-solid (like margarine). The negative side effect of partial hydrogenation is the creation of trans fats.

Insoluble Fiber

A type of fiber found in foods which the body cannot digest. Insoluble fiber helps to clean your digestive tract and promotes bowel movement to decrease constipation. It is found in foods such as root vegetables, beans, and grains.


A mineral found in both vegetables and meats. There are 2 types of iron: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron better absorbed by the body more efficiently than non-heme iron. Heme iron can be found in meats and non-heme iron can be found in spinach and other vegetables. Non-heme iron absorption can be enhanced by adding foods rich in Vitamin C to your meal, such as citrus fruits. Iron is used for carrying oxygen in your blood and other chemical processes involved with growth and development.


A substance that is found mainly in soybeans and has been found to have many health benefits, including reducing heart disease and cancer risks.


A simple sugar found in dairy products. Lactose is found in highest amount in milk, less in hard cheeses, and is in a slightly different form in yogurts.

Lactose Intolerance

A condition that results when the body does not make (or makes very small amounts of) the enzyme that digests lactose.


Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) is often referred to as bad cholesterol. High LDL levels can lead to heart disease.


A term used to describe lower fat meats. Lean cuts of meat have less “marbeling” or white fatty tissue throughout the cut of meat. When looking for lean cuts of meat, look for the words sirloin, round, or filet. Lean hamburger is called ground chuck and ground sirloin and has 15% or less fat and 85% or more lean meat usually marked on the label.


A term that is used to describe fat.


An antioxidant that plays a role in eyesight. Lutein is abundant in green, leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach, and kale.


An antioxidant that plays a role in protecting the body against cancer. Foods high in lycopene include tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots, and pink grapefruit.


A general term that refers to the primary components of the diet: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. They are used for fueling and supporting normal functions of the body. The combinations (or lack of) may directly affect your metabolism. See protein, carbohydrate, or fat for more details.


This is the speed or efficiency at which your body can burn calories. Eating healthy foods in adequate amounts and exercising helps to improve your ability to use calories efficiently.


A term that refers to vitamins and minerals. The body needs these in small amounts. Micronutrients do not provide energy for the body, but are needed to maintain normal functions and the metabolism process within the body. It is best to get these nutrients through a variety of natural foods rather than supplements.

Niacin (B-3)

A vitamin that is involved in metabolism, repairs genetic material, and helps maintain normal functioning of the nervous system including the brain. Niacin can be found in fortified cereals and whole grains; some other sources include peanuts, pork, ham, turkey, and tuna.

Panthothenic Acid (B-5)

A vitamin involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Good sources include eggs and whole wheat products; some other sources include bananas, broccoli, chicken, oranges, and peanuts.


A mineral that is essential for kidney function; aids in the contraction of cardiac, skeletal, and smooth muscles (maintain normal functioning of the heart, digestive system, and muscular function). Potassium is found in dairy products and whole grains; other sources include meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, and citrus juices.


An important macronutrient used for growth and repair of the entire body. Great protein sources come from meat, dairy, and dried beans, lentils.

Pyroxidine (B-6)

A vitamin involved in the metabolism of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Pyroxidine is found in eggs, milk, and whole grain foods. Other sources include bananas, chicken, ground beef, ham, and tuna.

Refined Grains

Grains that have been significantly modified from their natural whole grain composition. Whole grains are manufactured to remove the fiberous bran and endosperm part of the grain.


The best form of Vitamin A. Retinol is nearly ready for the body to use and doesn’t require much processing by the body. Retinol is found in such animal foods as liver, eggs, and fatty fish. It can also be found in many fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals.

Riboflavin (B-2)

A vitamin that is essential for energy generation, nerve and blood cell development, and the regulation of some hormones. Riboflavin can be found in many d airy products and enriched breads and cereals. Some other sources include: bananas, ham, mixed vegetables, pork, and tuna


A person or environment that not supportive of your effects to change your habits. A person could be anyone including friends, family members, or even yourself. A sabotaging environment may not have healthy choices available. It is best to recognize when you may encounter saboteurs and prepare ahead of time.


Also known as Sweet N’ Low. See sugar substitute.

Saturated Fat

The type of fat that is solid at room temperature, such as butter, shortening, or lard. Saturated fat contributes to heart disease and provides unnecessary calories. Saturated fats should be limited in the diet.

Shelf Life

The length of time a food can be stored on a shelf or refrigerator before it spoils. Use expiration dates on food products to help you determine the shelf life of a product.

Sodium (Salt)

A type of mineral found in the body and is used in manufacturing to enhance the flavor of foods and increase the shelf life of foods. Foods high in sodium include crackers, soups, and frozen/processed foods.

Soluble Fiber

A type of fiber which the body is able to digest and is important for lowing cholesterol and blood sugars. This type of fiber is most often found in fruits, vegetables, and oats. See also Fiber.


A product that comes from the soybean and is made into many food items, including soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy nuts, and soy pastas. Soy is a rich source of protein and isoflavones. Soy has proven to have many health benefits, including improving heart health and protecting against certain types of cancer.


See sucralose.

St. John's Wart

An herb that has been used to treat depression, anxiety, and nerve pain. This supplement has been known to interact with some drugs and is not regulated by the FDA.

Starchy Vegetable

A type of vegetable containing a high amount of carbohydrate. Common examples include corn, peas, and potatoes.

Sucralose (Splenda)

A sugar substitute. (See sugar substitute)


Sucrose is a simple sugar made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Sucrose is commonly referred to as “table sugar”.

Sugar Substitute

These are products manufactured to provide sweetness to foods, but not add calories. They may be added during the manufacturing process or yourself. Examples include sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal), and saccharin (Sweet N’ Low).

Thiamin (B-1)

A vitamin that maintains function of the nervous system and metabolism; deficiencies will cause fatigue, depression, and mental functioning. Thiamin is found in many fortified breads, cereals, pastas, and other starches. Some other sources include: potatoes, ham, dried be ans, orange juice, and peas.


A food made from soy milk that comes in the shape of a block. The process by which tofu is made is similar to how cheese is made from milk.

Trans Fat

A type of unsaturated fat; can be found naturally in small quantities in some foods. However, the more abundant and dangerous form is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil. Trans fats can be found in processed foods, margarine, some shortenings, baked goods, snack foods, and foods fried in hydrogenated oils.


A form of fat that has a glycerol (sugar) backbone with three fatty acids attached to it. They help to transport dietary fat throughout the body, but high levels can lead to heart disease and potentially the development of diabetes. Excessive caloric, saturated fat, trans fat, and/or sugar intake; medical history, and lack of exercise can all cause high triglycerides in the body.

Unsaturated Fat

A type of fat that is liquid at room temperature and are classified as either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats can be found in avacados; and canola, olive, and peanut oils. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in safflower, sunflower, and sesame seeds; corn and soybeans; many nuts and seeds; and their respective oils. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in the diet can help to lower cholesterol, although it is important to remember that all fats should be limited in the diet.

Value Marketing

The process by which food companies increase product size to increase their profits; such as “King” or “Biggie Size” snacks and beverages.

Vitamin A

A family of compounds that is involved in vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, cell differentiation, regulation of the immune system, and promotes healthy surface linings of the eyes; and of the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts. Food sources include whole eggs, milk, cheese, fortified breakfast cereals, sweet potatoes, lean meat, and some fruits and vegetables. Two of the most common forms of Vitamin A found in food are retinol and beta-carotene.

Vitamin C

A vitamin that is involved in growth and repair of cells; healing wounds and repair of cartilage, bones, and teeth. Food sources include green peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, turnip greens, sweet and white potatoes, cantaloupe.

Vitamin D

A vitamin that aids with absorption of calcium and phosphorus in bone formation. A great source of Vitamin D is from sunshine exposure. A few minutes in the sun is all is takes to get the amount that it needs. Beware, prolonged sun exposure is not healthy for your skin and can lead to cancer- only small exposures to the sun are needed to help maintain Vitamin D stores in the body. Vitamin D Food sources include eggs, milk, fish, and liver.

Vitamin E

A vitamin used to prevent chemical reactions in the body that can be damaging and is necessary for proper functioning of nerves and muscles. Food sources include: vegetable oils, wheat germ, whole-grain cereals, green leafy vegetables.

Whole Grain

A grain or seed found in foods in which the entire grain is used including the bran and endosperm. Beware, refined grain products use carmel coloring to attempt to make products appear to be whole grain. Look for the whole grain labels on products!


A mineral that is essential for a healthy immune system, aids in many biochemical reactions in the body, aids in wound healing, maintains sense of smell and taste, and is involved in DNA synthesis. Also, zinc supports normal growth and maintenance in children & adolescents. Foods high in zinc include dairy, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals. Other foods include red meats, beans, legumes, and nuts.