Glossary of diet terms

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Glossary of Diet Terms


  • Acculturation—The process by which individuals who immigrate into a new country adopt the attitudes, values, customs, beliefs, and behaviors of the new culture. Acculturation is the gradual exchange between the original attitudes and behaviors associated with the originating country and those of the host culture.

  • Added refined starch—The starch constituent see (carbobydrates) of a grain, such as corn, or of a vegetable, such as potato, used as an ingredient in another food. Starches have been refined to remove other components of the food, such as fiber, protein, and minerals. Refined starches can be added to foods as a thickener, a stabilizer, a bulking agent, or an anti-caking agent. While refined starches are made from grains or vegetables, they contain little or none of the many other components of these foods that together create a nutrient-dense food. They are a source of calories but few or no other nutrients.

Added sugars—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. Specific examples of added sugars that can be listed as an ingredient include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, and turbinado sugar. 


  • Body mass index (BMI)]]—A measure of weight in kilograms (kg) relative to height in meters squared (m2). BMI is considered a reasonably reliable indicator of total body fat, which is related to the risk of disease and death. BMI status categories include underweight, healthy weight, overweight, and obese. Overweight and obese describe ranges of weight that are greater than what is considered healthy for a given height, while underweight describes a weight that is lower than what is considered healthy. Because children and adolescents are growing, their BMI is plotted on growth charts for sex and age. The percentile indicates the relative position of the child’s BMI among children of the same sex and age.

Table A6-1.Body Mass Index (BMI) and Corresponding Body Weight Categories for Children and Adults   Body Weight Category [[Children and Adolescents (ages 2 to 19 years) (BMI-for-Age Percentile Range)]] [[Adults (BMI)]] Underweight Less than the 5th percentile Less than 18.5 kg/m2 Normal weight 5th percentile to less than the 85th percentile 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2 Overweight 85th to less than the 95th percentile 25.0 to 29.9 kg/m2 Obese Equal to or greater than the 95th percentile 30.0 kg/m2 and greater

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  • Calorie balance—The balance between calories consumed through eating and drinking and calories expended through physical activity and metabolic processes.

  • Calorie—A unit commonly used to measure energy content of foods and beverages as well as energy use (expenditure) by the body. A kilocalorie is equal to the amount of energy (heat) required to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram 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. If not specified explicitly, references to “calories” refer to “kilocalories.”

Carbohydrates—One of the macronutrients and a source of energy. They include sugars, starches, and fiber:

  • Fiber—Total fiber is the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber. Dietary fiber consists of nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants (i.e., the fiber naturally occurring in foods). Functional fiber consists of isolated, nondigestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans. Functional fibers are either extracted from natural sources or are synthetically manufactured and added to foods, beverages, and supplements.
  • Starches—Many glucose units linked together into long chains. Examples of foods containing starch include vegetables (e.g., potatoes, carrots), grains (e.g., brown rice, oats, wheat, barley, corn), and legumes (beans and peas; e.g., kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, split peas).

Sugars—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, those added to foods and beverages during processing and preparation, and those consumed separately.

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD)]]—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.

  • Cholesterol—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.
  • Blood 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. Two kinds of lipoproteins are:
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL-cholesterol)—Blood cholesterol often called “good” cholesterol; carries cholesterol from tissues to the liver, which removes it from the body.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL-cholesterol)—Blood cholesterol often called “bad” cholesterol; carries cholesterol to arteries and tissues. A high LDL-cholesterol level in the blood leads to a buildup of cholesterol in arteries.

  • Dietary cholesterol—Cholesterol found in foods of animal origin, including meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Plant foods, such as grains, vegetables, fruits, and oils do not contain dietary cholesterol.

  • Cup-equivalent (cup-eq or c-eq)—The amount of a food or beverage product that is considered equal to 1 cup from the vegetables, fruits, or dairy food groups. A cup-eq for some foods or beverages may differ from a measured cup in volume because the foods have been concentrated (such as raisins or tomato paste), the foods are airy in their raw form and do not compress well into a cup (such as salad greens), or the foods are measured in a different form (such as cheese).

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DASH Eating Plan—The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan exemplifies healthy eating. It was designed to increase intake of foods expected to lower blood pressure while being heart healthy and meeting Institute of Medicine (IOM) nutrient recommendations. It is available at specific calorie levels. It was adapted from the dietary pattern developed for the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) research trials. In the trials, the DASH dietary pattern lowered blood pressure and 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 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.

  • Diabetes—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 complications.

  • Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs)—A set of nutrient-based reference values that are quantitative estimates of nutrient intakes to be used for planning and assessing diets for healthy people. DRIs expand on the periodic reports called Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), which were first published by the Institute of Medicine in 1941.
  • Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR)—Range of intake for a particular energy source (i.e., carbohydrate, fat, and protein) that is associated with reduced risk of chronic disease while providing intakes of essential nutrients. If an individual’s intake is outside of the AMDR, there is a potential of increasing the risk of chronic diseases and/or insufficient intakes of essential nutrients.
  • Adequate Intakes (AI)—A recommended average daily nutrient intake level based on observed or experimentally determined approximations or estimates of mean nutrient intake by a group (or groups) of apparently healthy people. An AI is used when the Recommended Dietary Allowance cannot be determined.
  • Estimated Average Requirements (EAR)—The average daily nutrient intake level estimated to meet the requirement of half the healthy individuals in a particular life stage and sex group.
  • Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA)—The average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of nearly all (97 to 98%) healthy individuals in a particular life stage and sex group.
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL)—The highest average daily nutrient intake level likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects for nearly all individuals in a particular life stage and sex group. As intake increases above the UL, the potential risk of adverse health effects increases.


  • Eating behaviors—Individual behaviors that affect food and beverage choices and intake patterns, such as what, where, when, why, and how much people eat.

  • Eating pattern (also called “dietary pattern”)—The combination of foods and beverages that constitute an individual’s complete dietary intake over time. This may be a description of a customary way of eating or a description of a combination of foods recommended for consumption. Specific examples include USDA Food Patterns and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan. 

  • Energy drink—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.

  • Enrichment—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 the FDA. When cereal grains are labeled as enriched, it is mandatory that they be fortified with folic acid. (The addition of specific nutrients to whole-grain products is referred to as fortification.

  • Essential nutrient—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.

  • Existing report—An existing systematic review, meta-analysis, or report by a Federal agency or leading scientific organization examined by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in its review of the scientific evidence. A systematic process was used by the Advisory Committee to assess the quality and comprehensiveness of the review for addressing the question of interest. 

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Fats—One of the macronutrients and a source of energy. 

  • Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs)—Fatty acids that have one double bond and are usually liquid at room temperature. Plant sources rich in MUFAs include vegetable oils (e.g., canola, olive, high oleic safflower and sunflower), as well as nuts.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)—Fatty acids that have two or more double bonds and are usually liquid at room temperature. Primary sources are vegetable oils and some nuts and seeds. PUFAs provide essential fats such as n-3 and n-6 fatty acids.
  • n-3 PUFAs—A carboxylic acid with an 18-carbon chain and three cis double bonds, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an n-3 fatty acid that is essential in the diet because it cannot be synthesized by humans. Primary sources include soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are very long chain n-3 fatty acids that are contained in fish and shellfish. Also called omega-3 fatty acids.
  • n-6 PUFAs—A carboxylic acid with an 18-carbon chain and two cis double bonds, Linoleic acid (LA), one of the n-6 fatty acids, is essential in the diet because it cannot be synthesized by humans. Primary sources are nuts and liquid vegetable oils, including soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Also called omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Saturated fatty acids—Fatty acids that have no double bonds. Fats high in saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature. Major sources include animal products such as meats and dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut or palm oils.
  • Trans fatty acids—Unsaturated fatty acids that are structurally different from the unsaturated fatty acids that occur naturally in plant foods. Sources of trans fatty acids include partially hydrogenated vegetable oils used in processed foods such as desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, some margarines, and coffee creamer. Trans fatty acids also are present naturally in foods that come from ruminant animals (e.g., cattle and sheep), such as dairy products, beef, and lamb.

  • Food access—Ability to obtain and maintain levels of sufficient amounts of healthy, safe, and affordable food for all family members in various settings including where they live, learn, work and play. Food access is often measured by distance to a store or the number of stores in an area; individual-level resources such as family income or vehicle availability; and neighborhood-level indicators of resources, such as average income of the neighborhood and the availability of public transportation.

  • Food categories—A method of grouping similar foods in their as-consumed forms, for descriptive purposes. 

  • Food hub—A community space anchored by a food store with adjacent social and financial services where businesses or organizations can actively manage the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.

  • Food groups—A method of grouping similar foods for descriptive and guidance purposes. Food groups in the USDA Food Patterns 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.

  • Food pattern modeling—The process of developing and adjusting daily intake amounts from food categories or groups to meet specific criteria, such as meeting nutrient intake goals, limiting nutrients or other food components, or varying proportions or amounts of specific food categories or groups. This methodology includes using current food consumption data to determine the mix and proportions of foods to include in each group, using current food composition data to select a nutrient-dense representative for each food, calculating nutrient profiles for each food group using these nutrient-dense representative foods, and modeling various combinations of foods and amounts to meet specific criteria. 

  • Food and nutrition policies—Regulations, laws, policymaking actions, or formal or informal rules established by formal organizations or government units. Food and nutrition policies are those that influence food settings and/or eating behaviors to improve food and/or nutrition choices, and potentially, health outcomes (e.g., body weight).

Fortification—As defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 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.

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  • Health—A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

  • Healthy Eating Index (HEI)—A measure of diet quality that assesses adherence to the Dietary Guidelines. The HEI is used to monitor diet quality in the United States and to examine relationships between diet and health-related outcomes. The HEI is a scoring metric that can be applied to any defined set of foods, such as previously collected dietary data, a defined menu, or a market basket. Thus, the HEI can be used to assess the quality of food assistance packages, menus, and the U.S. food supply.

  • High-intensity sweeteners—Ingredients commonly used as sugar substitutes or sugar alternatives to sweeten and enhance the flavor of foods and beverages. People may choose these sweeteners in place of sugar for a number of reasons, including that they contribute few or no calories to the diet. Because high-intensity sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose), smaller amounts of high-intensity sweeteners are needed to achieve the same level of sweetness as sugar in food and beverages. (Other terms commonly used to refer to sugar substitutes or alternatives include non-caloric, low-calorie, no-calorie, and artificial sweeteners, which may have different definitions and applications. A high-intensity sweetener may or may not be non-caloric, low-calorie, no-calorie, or artificial sweeteners.)

  • Household food insecurity—Circumstances in which the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways, is limited or uncertain.

Hypertension—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.


  • Macronutrient—A dietary component that provides energy. Macronutrients include protein, fats, carbohydrates, and alcohol.

  • Meats and poultry—Foods that come from the flesh of land animals and birds. In the USDA Food Patterns, organs (such as liver) are also considered to be meat or poultry.
  • Meat (also known as “red meat”)—All forms of beef, pork, lamb, veal, goat, and non-bird game (e.g., venison, bison, elk).
  • Poultry—All forms of chicken, turkey, duck, geese, guineas, and game birds (e.g., quail, pheasant).
  • Lean meat and lean poultry—Any meat or poultry that contains less than 10 g of fat, 4.5 g or less of saturated fats, 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.
  • Processed meat and processed poultry—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 (bologna, frankfurters, luncheon meats and loaves, sandwich spreads, viennas, chorizos, kielbasa, pepperoni, salami, 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.

  • Mixed dishes—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.

  • Moderate alcohol consumption—Up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink-equivalent is described using the reference beverages of 12 fl oz of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 fl oz of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fl oz of 80 proof (40%) distilled spirits. One drink-equivalent is described as containing contains 14 g (0.6 fl oz) of pure alcohol.

  • Multi-component intervention—Interventions that use a combination of strategies to promote behavior change. These strategies can be employed across or within different settings or levels of influence.

  • Multi-level intervention—Interventions are those that target change at the individual level as well as additional levels, such as in the community (e.g., public health campaigns), schools (e.g., education), and food service (e.g., menu modification).

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Nutrient dense—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 solid fats and 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 solid 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 solid fats, sugars, or refined starches, or by the solid fats naturally present in the food.

Nutrient of concern—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 IOM-based standards, such as the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) or the Adequate Intake (AI). Overconsumed nutrients are those with a high prevalence of excess intake either across the population or in specific groups, related to IOM-based standards such as the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) or other expert group standards.

Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) systematic review—A process that uses state-of-the-art methods to identify, evaluate, and synthesize research to provide timely answers to important food and nutrition-related questions to inform U.S. Federal nutrition policies, programs, and recommendations. This rigorous, protocol-driven methodology is designed to minimize bias, maximize transparency, and ensure the use of all available relevant and high-quality research. 


Oils—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 high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, and lower in saturated fats than solid fats. A few plant oils, termed tropical oils, including coconut oil, 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. 

  • Ounce-equivalent (oz-eq)—The amount of a food product that is considered equal to 1 ounce from the grain or protein foods food group. An oz-eq for some foods may be less than a measured ounce in weight if the food is concentrated or low in water content (nuts, peanut butter, dried meats, flour) or more than a measured ounce in weight if the food contains a large amount of water (tofu, cooked beans, cooked rice or pasta).


  • Physical activity—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.

  • Point-of-purchase—A place where sales are made. Various intervention strategies have been proposed to affect individuals’ purchasing decisions at the point of purchase, such as board or menu labeling with various amounts of nutrition information or shelf tags in grocery stores.

Portion size—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.

  • Protein—One of the macronutrients; a major functional and structural component of every animal cell. Proteins are composed of amino acids, nine of which are indispensable (essential), meaning they cannot be synthesized by humans and therefore must be obtained from the diet. The quality of dietary protein is determined by its amino acid profile relative to human requirements as determined by the body's requirements for growth, maintenance, and repair. Protein quality is determined by two factors: digestibility and amino acid composition.

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  • Refined grains—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.


  • Screen time—Time spent in front of a computer, television, video or computer game system, smart phone or tablet, or related device.

  • Seafood—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).

  • Sedentary behavior—Any waking activity predominantly done while in a sitting or reclining posture. A behavior that expends energy at or minimally above a person’s resting level (between 1.0 and 1.5 metabolic equivalents) is considered sedentary behavior.

  • Serving size—A standardized amount of a food, such as a cup or an ounce, used in providing information about a food within a food group, such as in dietary guidance. Serving size on the Nutrition Facts label 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” comparisons. 

  • Social-Ecological Model—A framework developed to illustrate how sectors, settings, social and cultural norms, and individual factors converge to influence individual food and physical activity choices.

Solid fats—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. The fat component of milk and cream (butter) is solid at room temperature. 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). 

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages—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. Also called calorically sweetened beverages. 

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USDA Food Patterns—A set of eating patterns that exemplify healthy eating, which all include recommended intakes for the five food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein foods) and for subgroups within the vegetables, grains, and protein foods groups. They also recommend an allowance for intake of oils. Patterns are provided at 12 calorie levels from 1,000 to 3,200 calories to meet varied calorie needs. The Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern is the base USDA Food Pattern.

  • Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern—A pattern that exemplifies healthy eating based on the types and proportions of foods Americans typically consume, but in nutrient-dense forms and appropriate amounts, designed to meet nutrient needs while not exceeding calorie requirements. It is substantially unchanged from the primary USDA Food Patterns of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. This pattern is evaluated in comparison to meeting Dietary Reference Intakes for essential nutrients and staying within limits set by the IOM or Dietary Guidelines for overconsumed food components. It aligns closely with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan, a guide for healthy eating based on the DASH diet which was tested in clinical trials. 
  • Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern—A pattern that exemplifies healthy eating, designed by modifying the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern to more closely reflect eating patterns that have been associated with positive health outcomes in studies of Mediterranean-Style diets. This pattern is evaluated based on its similarity to food group intakes of groups with positive health outcomes in these studies rather than on meeting specified nutrient standards. It differs from the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern in that it includes more fruits and seafood and less dairy.
  • Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern—A pattern that exemplifies healthy eating, designed by modifying the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern to more closely reflect eating patterns reported by self-identified vegetarians. This pattern is evaluated in comparison to meeting Dietary Reference Intakes for essential nutrients and staying within limits set by the IOM or Dietary Guidelines for overconsumed food components. It differs from the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern in that it includes more legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds, and whole grains, and no meat, poultry, or seafood.


  • Variety—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.


  • Whole fruits—All fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruit but not fruit juice.

  • Whole grains—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 of dietary fiber.

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