The Spruce Eats Nutrition Glossary

broccoli, radishes, carrots, beets, and yams cut on cutting board with a knife

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

While The Spruce Eats doesn’t subscribe to or endorse any particular diet or nutrition approach, you may come across health and nutrition terms in some of our articles and recipes.

Whether we’re talking about ingredients or explaining why a recipe fits a specific dietary style, we want you to understand exactly what we mean when we refer to something as “low-carb,” “keto,” or “rich in whole grains.”

Many nutrition terms don’t have standardized definitions, and this glossary isn’t a comprehensive deep-dive into the world of nutrition. 

Instead, we’re providing you with this nutrition glossary of the most common nutrition terms you’ll find on The Spruce Eats so you can get the most out of our content, and so you can make the best decisions for feeding yourself and your family.

Antioxidants: Substances that support the immune system and protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals. Free radical damage is linked to aging and some diseases.

Anti-inflammatory : The process of reducing inflammation in the body. Chronic excess inflammation is linked to serious health concerns.

Blood sugar: The sugar, or glucose, that enters the blood from the food and drinks you consume. This sugar is energy for cells all over your body.

Calorie : A measurement of the energy in food and drinks. Carbohydrate, fat, protein, and alcohol all contribute to the energy content of food and drinks.

Carbohydrate: One of three macronutrients that provide energy to the body. Also referred to as carbs, carbohydrates are simple (i.e. sugar found in fruit or sweets) or complex (i.e. fiber and starch found in potatoes or grains). There are four calories per gram.

Cholesterol: A substance related to fat that circulates in the blood. The liver makes cholesterol, which is used in the creation of some hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help break down the fat you eat. Animal foods, like meat and dairy, contain dietary cholesterol. Some types of cholesterol are linked to heart disease.

Diabetes: A disease that results in high blood sugar. Individuals with diabetes either make too little insulin or have trouble using it. Insulin is a hormone responsible for moving sugar from the blood to cells for use as energy.

Electrolytes: Minerals that play roles in hydration and muscle contraction. They include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride.

Fat: One of three macronutrients that provide energy to the body. Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient with nine calories per gram. Fats are classified as saturated or unsaturated. 

Fiber: A type of carbohydrate found in plant foods, including fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. Fiber is not broken down for energy. It supports digestive health, helps you feel full, and supports healthy blood cholesterol levels.

Gluten: Proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. Some people are sensitive or allergic to gluten.

Gluten free: Refers to foods or drinks that do not contain any gluten. 

Glycemic Index: A score system that numerically ranks carbohydrate-containing foods from 0 to 100 based on how much they raise blood sugar levels.

Immunity-boosting: Refers to foods or nutrients that support the immune system.

Intermittent Fasting (IF): A popular eating style characterized by alternating eating with periods of voluntary fasting. Eating is restricted to a certain time window. Proponents of IF say it helps with weight loss, cravings, and overall health. Read more about Intermittent Fasting.

Ketogenic Diet: A popular eating style characterized by high intake of dietary fat, moderate intake of protein, and very low intake of carbohydrates. The goal is to put the body into ketosis, where fat is used as the primary energy source instead of carbohydrates. Read more about the keto diet.

Low-carb food: Foods that contain little to no carbohydrate content. There is no set level of carbohydrates for a food to be considered low-carb. In general, foods that contain 20 percent or fewer of calories from carbohydrate per serving may be considered low-carb.

Low-carb diet: A low-carb diet minimizes carbohydrate intake, but may contain higher amounts of carbohydrates than a ketogenic diet. There is no set level of carbohydrates per day to be considered a low-carb diet. In general, eating about 20 percent of your total calories from carbohydrates may be considered a low-carb diet. That equates to roughly 100 grams of carbohydrate per day for a 2000-calorie/day intake.

Low FODMAP diet: An elimination diet aimed to relieve discomfort and health effects of irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive conditions. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates, a type of sugar, which the small intestine can have difficulty digesting. Under the supervision of a doctor or dietitian, high-FODMAP foods are eliminated, and then gradually reintroduced. Read more about the low FODMAP diet.

Macronutrients: Refers to the three main energy-providing nutrients: carbohydrate, fat, and protein. 

Mediterranean diet: A style of eating based on traditional foods found in cuisines of the Mediterranean region, including Spain, France, and Italy. Includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, healthy fats, and fish, with little to no intake of refined grains, processed foods, and added sugars.

Micronutrients: Refers to all other nutrients that are not macronutrients, including vitamins and minerals. 

Omega 3s: A type of polyunsaturated fat found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. They are linked to health benefits, including heart and brain health, infant development, and relief from arthritic pain.

Plant Based: A food, recipe, or diet that is made from plant ingredients. Plant-based recipes and diets contain little to no animal foods.

Probiotic: Live bacteria found in fermented foods, like yogurt, raw sauerkraut, and some pickled vegetables. Probiotics live in the intestine and support a healthy digestive system.

Protein : One of three macronutrients that provide energy to the body. Proteins are made from amino acids and play many roles in the body. There are four calories per gram. Read more about how much protein you need per day.

Raw food diet: An eating style that focuses on uncooked and unprocessed foods. Staple foods on a raw food diet include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and soaked or sprouted grains. 

Registered Dietitian (RD): A health professional who specializes in food and nutrition. RDs must complete an approved college program, internship, pass a national exam, and participate in continuing education to earn and maintain accreditation through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Saturated fat: A type of fat that is solid at room temperature and is found in dairy, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, and meat. High intake of saturated fat is linked to heart disease.

Sugar : A simple carbohydrate that provides a sweet taste to foods. Sugar may be naturally occurring, like those found in fruit and milk, or added, like those found in candy and baked goods.

Unsaturated fat: Refers to mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fats are found in avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, olives, and olive oil. They are linked to heart health benefits.

Vegan: A plant-based style of eating that eliminates all animal foods, including meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy.

Vegetarian: A plant-based style of eating that eliminates meat, but may include eggs and/or dairy.

Vitamins: Micronutrients that the human body needs in small amounts to function. Some vitamins are essential, meaning they cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from food and/or supplements.

Whole grains: Whole grains are intact grains that contain all the parts found in a seed of grain: the bran, germ, and endosperm. They contain more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than refined grains. Whole grains include brown rice, oatmeal, and 100 percent whole wheat bread.