In the food book we tried to leave out jargon as much as possible, but it was inevitable that we would have to jam in a few technical words. Here is a break down of those found in the book
Albumin – a protein that the body uses. High amounts of albumin in urine is a sign of kidney failure.
Amino acid – these are the building blocks of proteins.
Antioxidants – very important as they protect the body against free radicals. Some of the following vitamins and minerals are antioxidants or are used by the body to make antioxidants – vitamins C and E, copper and zinc, and selenium. Fruit and veges contain high levels of antioxidants.
Aspartame – an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener common in soft drinks. Contains a couple of naturally occurring amino acids but its use is controversial because on digestion it breaks down to methanol and formaldehyde. May be a useful replacement for sugar, but only in the short term.
Atkins Diet – a way of eating that eliminates carbohydrates but allows unlimited consumption of protein and fat.
Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measurement obtained by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of the person’s height in metres. BMI is not a perfect measure for an individual, as we all come in different shapes and sizes; for example many All Blacks would be obese under this system due to all the muscle they are carrying. However at a national level, BMI measures can give us an idea of trends.
Calories – the measure for the amount of energy in food used in the United States. In NZ we use the metric equivalent, kilojoules (KJ) – which you can guarantee nobody that’s not expert, relates to. Just another example of making stuff unnecessarily hard for the public to follow! One calorie is about 4.2 KJ.
Carbohydrate – a nutrient in our food that our body uses solely for energy. In fact, carbohydrates are not essential as we can get energy from other sources – protein and fat. Carbohydrates differ on the speed that they are absorbed into the body, as measured by the glycaemic index. Foods like fibre are barely digestible, so we get little energy from them at all. Starch (also known as complex carbohydrate) takes longer to digest, whereas sugar (also known as simple carbohydrate) and refined grains are absorbed very quickly.
Carotene – these are a type of phytochemical which give many fruit and veges their natural colour, and can also act as vitamins and antioxidants.
Catalase – an antioxidant made by the body using minerals and vitamins. It acts as a catalyst to break down harmful hydrogen peroxide (that forms in our body as a result of respiration) into harmless water and oxygen.
Cœliac disease – an allergy to gluten, the protein that occurs in wheat and some other grains. The body treats the protein like an invading virus, triggering an inflammatory response. Celiac disease is the extreme response suffered by a few (1 in 100 people), but more people (1 in 10) may suffer from the milder form of gluten intolerance.
Cholesterol –is important in the body’s manufacture of hormones and in building cell walls. While cholesterol is more like an alcohol than a fat, it is not water soluble so it is transported around the bloodstream on water soluble molecules, lipoproteins. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol to the cells, high density lipoproteins (HDL) carry them to the liver for excretion or reuse. Too much LDL is bad because it increases the risk that cells become overloaded, leading to inflammation, while high density cholesterol (HDL) is seen as good because it extracts cholesterol from the cells and disposes of them through the liver. High LDL cholesterol can be caused by eating trans-fat, and overeating, particularly saturated fat or high GI foods like sugar, but strangely it has nothing to do with eating cholesterol! The body is capable of manufacturing and breaking down cholesterol, so the amount eaten in the diet doesn’t impact on levels in the blood.
Diabetes – high levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Type I is genetic, when the body fails to produce sufficient insulin, the hormone that helps regulate the amount of sugar in your blood; Type II is usually caused by diet, and is where the body’s cells stop responding to the insulin and sugar remains in the blood. Malnutrition diabetes, sometimes known as ‘Type III’, is less understood. It may be caused by ill health and/or malnutrition; either way the body loses the ability to properly process the food that it receives.
Dopamine – the brain’s reward chemical. It is pumped into the brain as a reward for doing things like eating foods high in sugar, salt, or fat.
Eating Disorders – are conditions defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and mental health. Anorexia nervosa (severely cutting down on food intake) and bulimia nervosa (binge eating followed by purging) are the most well-known conditions, resulting severe weight loss. Many people have eating disorders that don’t fit these strict conditions.
Empty calories – food that is high in energy with a poor nutritional profile, most of the energy typically coming from refined carbohydrates (refined sugar and grains) and refined fats. Many processed foods remove micro-nutrients in order to improve the shelf life of the food. As a result we are left with an “empty calorie”, which has the same energy content as any other calorie but lacks many accompanying nutrients such as vitamins, dietary minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, or dietary fibre.
Energy – captured from the sun by plants and stored in the form of glucose (which is made from carbon dioxide and water, and releases oxygen). This is then broken down in the cells of plants and animals through the process of respiration (wherein oxygen reacts with glucose) releasing energy, carbon dioxide and water.
Enzyme – a protein that catalyses chemical reactions in the plant or body without being used up. For example some enzymes are essential to store or transport energy, or deal with dangerous by-products (like catalase deals with hydrogen peroxide).
Fake Food – highly processed foods that contain more calories and fewer essential nutrients, usually to improve shelf life. Compared to whole foods fake foods are less likely to go bad, bear little resemblance to food in its natural state and probably wouldn’t be recognised as food by your grandma.
Fat – one of the 3 ‘macro’ nutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates) that the body can use for energy (KJ). Fat provides more than twice the number of KJ per gram than that provided by carbohydrates or protein, so it is easy to over eat. Fat contains valuable vitamins, and certain fats (Omega 3 and 6) are essential for the proper functioning of the body, and can only be obtained from food. They are important for controlling inflammation, blood clotting, and brain development. Fat also serves as the body’s way of storing energy.
Free Radicals – unstable molecules in search of an electron. They are very important in releasing the energy from food but they need to be controlled in the body otherwise they can wreak havoc. Respiration is the process whereby they’re most commonly generated but they can also be caused by smoking, alcohol, over-cooked food. One of the body’s responses to overeating is to increase respiration, but this process produces more free radicals, increasing the chances of them causing damage. Damage is also more likely if the body lacks the nutrients to make antioxidants which can control the free radicals.
Free Sugars – sugars that have been refined in some way, rendering them more accessible by the body than most carbohydrates. This includes refined sugars added by manufacturers to foods, fruit juices and honey (which has been refined for us by bees).
Fructose – a sugar that is found in honey, fruit and makes up half of table sugar. It is the sweetest of all sugars. It is processed by the liver instead of in cells. On one hand this gives it a lower GI, but on the other it is possible that overeating fructose may be more damaging for the body than other forms of sugar. However in its natural form this is unlikely as it comes bound up with fibre.
Glucose – a sugar that is used by cells in the body as the basic form of fuel. It is also made by plants as a way to store the energy gained as a result of photosynthesis.
Gluten – a protein found in grains. For some people it isn’t the easiest substance for the gut to break down, and can escape through the lining of the digestive system and spill into the bloodstream, where it triggers an immune response.
Glycaemic Index (GI) – measures how quickly carbohydrates are broken down by the body and enter the bloodstream as glucose. Glucose has an index value of 100. Foods with GI above 70 are High GI – they are absorbed (converted to glucose and put in the bloodstream) by the body quickly. The body tries to burn as much of this as it can, and stores the rest, mostly as fat, then is left craving more.
Glycaemic Load (GL) – similar to GI but includes the total amount of glucose that will hit the bloodstream after eating a food. This gives us an idea of the size of the total glucose energy ‘spike’ that the body has to contend with after eating a certain food. High GL means that a lot of glucose is entering the bloodstream very quickly, increasing the risk that cells will face excess energy and that some of the energy will need to be stored as fat. A GL of below 10 is considered low, and above 20 is considered high.
High Cholesterol – usually refers to high levels of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol. Eating cholesterol doesn’t increase the cholesterol in your blood: eating trans fat, too much energy, too much saturated fat and/ or a high GI diet do.
High Blood Sugar – too much sugar in the blood, usually caused by eating too much energy, particularly sugar or refined grains.
High Blood Pressure – a mix of inflamed arteries and excess blood, commonly caused by eating too much salt.
Hormone – like the messaging system for the body, sending notices around to change how the body is operating in order to keep the body regulated. They can be made from fat (usually sex hormones) or protein (the rest, like insulin). They tell the body to carry out essential functions. Most hormones have an equal, opposite hormone to counteract them, so the balance determines what gets done.
Imitation Food – A labelling term approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to describe a processed food that is intended to substitute for another food. Nowadays the technical use of this term is restricted to instances where the substitute is clearly ‘nutritionally inferior’ to the food being imitated.
Inflammation – The body’s equivalent of quarantining a trouble-maker. Inflammation is designed to deal with disease by isolating the intruder and bombarding it with white blood cells. However eating too much over time causes a mild but similar, sustained effect. This is because the cells are trying to burn the excess food, so they create more free radicals. These free radicals can escape, triggering an immune response. They may collide with excess sugar or fat cells in the bloodstream (which are trying to get to cells to be burned), causing inflammation, which may lead to heart disease and stroke. Cells quarantined or shutdown by inflammation fail to respond to normal hormones like leptin and insulin. This means they stop burning fuel and the burden of doing so shifts elsewhere. Eventually the cells develop an immunity to insulin (Type II diabetes), or an immunity to leptin (obesity). Free radicals can also move to attack the DNA of the cells – causing cancer.
Insulin – a hormone produced by the body during eating that controls the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. Insulin signals for cells to stop burning fat stores and use the glucose available in the blood. If the cells can’t use all the glucose, the insulin will trigger some of the energy to be stored as fat.
Key Risk Factors – smoking, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, obesity, and fruit and vegetable intake, blood sugar and the protein albumin in urine (a sign of kidney failure) are all key risk factors identified by the World Health Organisation as capable of shortening life. This doesn’t necessarily mean they cause death, simply that they are a warning sign of health problems.
Lactose – the sugar in milk. Humans used to stop being able to tolerate the sugar in milk when they reached adulthood, however this changed when several thousand years ago Europeans started developing a gene which allowed lactose tolerance in adulthood (a variant of the gene known as MCM6).
Leptin – a hormone produced by the body’s fat cells that suppresses appetite. Obesity may be caused by an immunity to leptin.
Lycopene – a bright red carotene phytochemical found in tomatoes which may reduce cancer risk.
Minerals – or trace elements are simply elements as per the Periodic Table. They are not complex molecules but are often used by the body to make complex enzymes.
Nutrients – the things we need from our environment to stay alive. The main nutrients in food are classified as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, water, vitamins, and minerals.
Obesity – when someone is over-weight. The precise definition is when a person’s body mass index (BMI) is over 30. Obesity is not necessarily an indicator of being unhealthy. Being obese isn’t always a choice as there are environmental and biological influences which can hold a massive sway. Modern life often presents a stressful environment with these addictive (salt, sugar, fat) substances in ready supply. Once overweight it is difficult to correct it because the body defends the energy stored in your body’s (excessive number of) fat cells.
Omega Oils – the essential unsaturated fatty acids. These cannot be synthesised by the human body but are essential for normal operation of our metabolism Omega 3 and 6 oils are essential – the body cannot make them itself. They are important for making cells and hormones in the body. The balance between these two types of Omega oils may be important for health, such as our body’s immune response.
Oxidation – part of the process of respiration wherein oxygen is used to liberate energy from glucose. This process is vital for life but involves the creation of potentially dangerous free radicals.
Phytochemicals – a form of micronutrients that are new to science and are not fully understood yet. They are naturally occurring chemical compounds in fruit and veges that may improve our health.
Protein – one of the main nutrients we get from our food, proteins serve three purposes: acting as enzymes, making hormones, and used as a structural component in the body (muscles, repairs and cell building – particularly the nucleus). Plants make amino acids from simple carbohydrates (sugars) by just adding nitrogen, and many amino acids together become protein.
Pulses – otherwise known as legumes, these are seeds from crops that all tend to contain high levels of protein. Pulses include beans, lentils and peas.
Raw milk – milk that has not been pasteurised or homogenised.
Red blood cells – the part of blood that carries oxygen to cells. The red pigment comes from iron, which is used to carry the oxygen in the blood.
Saturated fats – easy to spot because they are solid at room temperature, like butter and the fat on meat. This is because the fat molecules are in lines so they can pack together tightly like knives in a drawer.
Sucrose – table sugar; a blend of glucose and fructose.
Sugars – simple carbohydrates that require very little breaking down for the body to use as fuel. Sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly, which can make it difficult for the body to use all the fuel at once.
Supplements – mineral and vitamins concentrated in pill form. These are common consumer products. The elderly struggle to absorb all the nutrients (like vitamins and minerals) that they need from their diet so supplements might actually be useful for them. In contrast the rest of the worried well who relentlessly pop supplement pills, tend only to pee them out.
Trace Elements – see minerals.
Trans fats – Trans-fats are mutant fats that are made by a chemical process that turns unsaturated fat into saturated fat. They can raise the level of LDL in your system and lower HDL – so they are monsters. Look out for hydrogenated fats in fake food, it is trans-fat intensive. We don’t yet know if the trans-fat from grain fed beef and milk causes the same problems.
Unsaturated fats – tend to be liquid at room temperature. This is because they have gaps around the molecules, so they can’t pack together so tightly and end up more like soup ladles in a drawer. Monounsaturated fats have one gap in them, while polyunsaturated fats have many. The essential fats are polyunsaturated ones, Omega 3 and 6.
Vitamins – nutrients that we need to survive. They don’t provide any energy but rather are catalysts for essential chemical reactions within the body. They are either fat or water soluble.
White blood cells – used by the body to fight anything that the body thinks might cause disease.
Whole grains – cereal grains that contain germ, endosperm, and bran, in contrast to refined grains, which retain only the endosperm.