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Glossary over Diet and Nutrition


Aflatoxins are potent toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, immunosuppressive substances that can be found on poorly stored grains and nuts.

They are produced as secondary metabolites by certain types of molds (Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus).

Food contaminated with aflatoxins can affect both humans and animals and lead to liver cancer. (Source: GreenFacts)


The term alcohol refers to a family of chemicals that occur widely in nature and are mass-produced for use in antifreezes, fuels and some manufacturing processes.

Alcohol is commonly used to refer to alcohol-containing drinks such as wine, beer and spirits. In this case the alcohol, ethanol, has been produced by a process called fermentation. Consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to drunkenness and may be harmful to health. (Source: GreenFacts)

Alpha-linolenic acid

An essential fatty acid and the major omega-3 fatty acid found in [plant based] food. Essential fatty acids are not produced by the body and must be present in the diet to maintain health.

The unique biochemical structure of alpha-linolenic acid is important and helps to make it a key player in immunity, vision, cell membranes, and the production of hormone-like compounds. (Source: Online Vitamins Guide Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)  )



A defficiency of red blood cells in the bloodstream, resulting in insufficient oxygen being carried to tissues and organs.

Symptoms of anemia include feeling tired, weak, and short of breath. (Source: GreenFacts)


Breeding and rearing of fish, shellfish, or plants in ponds, enclosures, or other forms of confinement in fresh or marine waters for the direct harvest of the product. (Source: MA   Glossary )


An arrhythmia (also called dysrhythmia or irregular heart rhythm) is an irregular or abnormal heartbeat.

An arrhythmia can involve a change in the rhythm, producing an uneven heartbeat, or a change in the rate, causing a very slow or very fast heartbeat. (Source: Cleveland Clinic Heart Center Treating the Heart, Blood Vessels and Circulation  )


Asian Development Bank

"The work of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is aimed at improving the welfare of the people in Asia and the Pacific, particularly the 1.9 billion who live on less than $2 a day. Despite many success stories, Asia and the Pacific remains home to two thirds of the world's poor.

ADB is a multilateral development financial institution owned by 65 members, 47 from the region and 18 from other parts of the globe.

ADB's vision is a region free of poverty. Its mission is to help its developing member countries reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of their citizens." (Source: ADB website )


Bacteria are a major group of micro-organisms that live in soil, water, plants, organic matter, or the bodies of animals or people. They are microscopic and mostly unicellular, with a relatively simple cell structure.

Some bacteria cause diseases such as tetanus, typhoid fever, pneumonia, syphilis, cholera, and tuberculosis.

Bacteria play a role in the decomposition of organic matter and other chemical processes. (Source: GreenFacts)



Compulsive eating pattern characterized by eating an excessive amount of food within a short period of time. (Source: GreenFacts)



The study of the chemical processes and compounds occurring in living organisms. (Source: American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Glossary  )

Biologic intake

The process by which a substance crosses the outer boundary of an organism without passing an absorption barrier, e.g. through ingestion or inhalation. (Source: US EPA glossary )


Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify underweight, overweight and obesity in adults.

It is defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in metres (kg/m2).

BMI = weight (kg)
height (m) x height (m)

For example, an adult who weighs 70kg and whose height is 1.75m will have a BMI of 22.9.

BMI = 70 (kg)
1.75 (m) x 1.75 (m)
= 22.9

BMI values are age-independent and the same for both sexes. (Source: WHO BMI classification  )



The dense, living tissue that makes up the skeleton of humans and vertebrate animals.

Mature bones are made up of three types of tissue: compact tissue (the hard outer portion of most bones); cancellous tissue (spongy tissue inside the bones that contains bone marrow, which makes blood cells); and subchondral tissue (smooth bone tissue of the joints).

Cancellous tissue, also known as cancellous bone, spongy bone or trabecular bone, is characterized by its spongy, porous, honeycomb-like structure and is typically found at the ends of long bones. Compact tissue is also known as hard bone, compact bone or compact cortical bone. (Source: GreenFacts)



Boron is the element with atomic number 5. Each boron atom has five protons in its nucleus (atomic core), and five electrons. (Source: GreenFacts)


British Nutrition Foundation

"The British Nutrition Foundation is a scientific and educational charity which promotes the well being of society through the impartial interpretation and effective dissemination of evidence-based nutritional knowledge and advice." (Source: BNF website )


Cafestol is a molecule present in coffee and a potent cholesterol-elevating compound.

The concentration of cafestol in a coffee drink is influenced by the brewing method. Boiled coffee (Scandinavian and Turkish style) contains the highest concentrations, whereas instant and drip filtered contain negligible amounts. (Source: GreenFacts, based on US National Toxicology Program  Cafestol and Kahweol, Review of Toxicological Literature )


Unit of measurement for energy.

One calorie is formally defined as the amount of energy required to raise one cubic centimeter of water by one degree Centigrade. For purpose of measuring the amount of energy in food, nutritionists most commonly use kilocalories (equal to 1000 calories), and label the measurement either as "kcal" or as "Calories" with a capital "C".

One kcal is also equivalent to approximately 4.184 kilojoules. (Source: Nutrition Data Nutrition Glossary  )


Any one of a group of diseases that occur when cells in the body become abnormal and have the potential to spread and establish growth in nearby tissues and other parts of the body (malignancy). (Source: GreenFacts )



In agriculture, canola is a variety of the rapeseed plant from which oil is obtained.

This vegetable oil is referred to as rapeseed or canola oil and is high in mono-unsaturated fatty acid. (Source: GreenFacts)



A substance, factor or situation that causes or induces cancer. (Source: GreenFacts )

Cell membrane

The cell membrane is a fine structure that envelops a cell, separating the content of the cell from its surroundings.

It regulates the substances that can enter and leave the cell.

The membrane consists of a double layer of lipids in which proteins are embedded. (Source: GreenFacts)


A fat-like substance that is found in certain foods and is also produced in the body.

Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in different packages called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) deliver cholesterol to the body, while high-density lipoproteins (HDL or "good" cholesterol) take cholesterol out of the bloodstream. (Source: PBS Glossary of Medical Terms  )



Occurring over a long period of time, either continuously or intermittently; used to describe ongoing exposures and effects that develop only after a long exposure. (Source: US EPA Thesaurus  )

Circulatory system

The system that contains the heart and the blood vessels and moves blood throughout the body. This system helps tissues get enough oxygen and nutrients, and it helps them get rid of waste products. The lymph system, which connects with the blood system, is often considered part of the circulatory system. (Source: NCI Dictionary of cancer terms  )



Relating to or affecting the colon and the rectum. (Source: GreenFacts)



When referring to humans, a community is defined as:

A collection of human beings who have something in common.

A local community is a fairly small group of people who share a common place of residence and a set of institutions based on this fact, but the word ‘community’ is also used to refer to larger collections of people who have something else in common (e.g., national community, donor community).

When referring to other living organisms, a community is defined as:

An assemblage of species occurring in the same space or time, often linked by biotic interactions such as competition or predation. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment  Glossary )


A material made up of two or more elements combined in a fixed ratio. (Source: CoRIS glossary  )


Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease is atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries, i.e. a "hardening" of the walls of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart (coronary arteries).

This hardening is due to fatty deposits called plaques that build on the inner walls of these arteries.

The resulting narrowed passageway decreases or stops the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, which damages the heart muscles and leads to chest pain, shortness of breath, heart attack, and possibly to death. (Source: GreenFacts)



Any of a large group of mostly aquatic animals, including crabs, lobsters, and shrimps, having hard shells, jointed bodies, and antennae. (Source: GreenFacts )


Dental caries

Dental decay resulting from the action of bacteria on sugary foods. The hole left after the removal of decay is the cavity.

However, dental caries, tooth decay and dental cavities are often used as synonyms. (Source: GreenFacts )

Dental fluorosis

Dental fluorosis is a condition that results from the intake of too much fluoride during the period of tooth development, usually from birth to approximately 6-8 years of age.

Excess levels of fluoride can disturb the cell function of the enamel-forming cells (ameloblasts) which prevents the normal maturation of the enamel.

The severity of this condition ranges from very mild to severe, depending on the extent of fluoride exposure during the period of tooth development. Mild dental fluorosis is usually characterized by the appearance of small white areas in the enamel; individuals with severe dental fluorosis have teeth that appear stained and pitted ("mottled"). (Source: based on GreenFacts Fluoride Study )


Dentine is an ivory-like substance that forms the inner layer of a tooth (covered by the enamel) and the bulk of the hard-tissue component of a tooth. Dentine is softer than enamel. (Source: GreenFacts)


DG Health and Consumers

"The Health and Consumers DG (formally known as Health and Consumer Protection DG) is one of 36 Directorates-General (DGs) and specialised services which make up the European Commission."

The mission statement of the Health and Consumers DG is: "to promote a better quality of life by ensuring a high level of protection of consumers' health, safety and economic interests as well as of public health"

"This overall goal is addressed through legislative and non-legislative actions in three inter-related policy areas: 1. Consumer policy (...), 2. Public Health (...), 3. Food safety, animal health, animal welfare and plant health (...)". (Source: DG Health and Consumers website  )


Diabetes is a disease that develops when the body is unable to produce or respond to insulin hormone in the normal way. (Source: GreenFacts)



Enamel is the hard calcified tissue which covers the dentine of a tooth. It is the hardest substance produced by vertebrates.

Enamel is composed almost entirely of inorganic calcium phosphate (apatite), most of which is arranged in a crystalline lattice structure. (Source: GreenFacts)


Endometrial tissue

The layer of tissue that lines the uterus. (Source: NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms  )


The widespread outbreak of a disease, or a large number of cases of a disease in a single community or relatively small area. (Source: CoRIS Glossary  )

Epidemiological studies

Studies on human populations, which attempt to link human health effects (e.g. cancer) to a cause (e.g. exposure to a specific chemical). (Source: GreenFacts)


European Commission

"The European Commission (EC) embodies and upholds the general interest of the [European] Union and is the driving force in the Union's institutional system. Its four main roles are to propose legislation to Parliament and the Council, to administer and implement Community policies, to enforce Community law (jointly with the Court of Justice) and to negotiate international agreements, mainly those relating to trade and cooperation."

The Commission's staff is organised into 36 Directorates-General (DGs) and specialised services, such as the Environment DG and the Research DG. (Source: EC website  )

European Food Information Council

"The European Food Information Council, EUFIC, is a non-profit organisation which provides science-based information on food and food-related topics to the media, health and nutrition professionals, educators, and opinion leaders."

"EUFIC acts as a vital link in the communication chain by channeling information gathered at the source - primarily from nutrition and food safety experts - through to the consumers.

EUFIC's mission is directly related to the increasing public demand for sound, balanced information on the nutritional quality and safety of foods.

EUFIC directs its resources towards three broad areas:

  • Safety and quality of food and food products
  • Nutrition, diet and health
  • Application of biotechnology in the food chain

Contact of the cells of an organism with a substance, micro-organism or radiation. In the case of humans, this may involve contact with a substance or agent by swallowing, breathing, or through the skin or eyes. Exposure may be short-term [acute exposure], of intermediate duration, or long-term [chronic exposure].

Exposure can be divided into external and internal.

External exposure refers to the whole dose to which an organism is exposed.

Internal exposure refers only to that fraction of the initial chemical dose that is absorbed and distributed throughout the body via systemic circulation. (Source: GreenFacts)


Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are the organic building blocks (small molecules that link together to form long chains) of fats which are used by the body for energy and tissue development. (Source: GreenFacts)



The process by which micro-organisms break down complex organic substances generally in the absence of oxygen to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. (Source: GreenFacts)


Fish stock

The population or [total mass] of a fishery resource. Such stocks are usually identified by their location. They can be, but are not always, genetically discrete from other stocks. (Source: MA  Glossary )



A particular kind of fishing activity, e.g., a trawl fishery or a particular species targeted, e.g., a cod fishery or salmon fishery. (Source: MA  Glossary )


Flavonoids are brightly colored plant pigments that occur naturally in most fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many of these compounds serve as antioxidants or contribute in other ways to maintain health. (Source: GreenFacts)


Fluorine (F) is the first element of the halogen family and the most reactive of all chemical elements. The term "fluoride" refers to its ionic form (F-) and "fluorides" to fluoride-containing compounds, both organic and inorganic.

Fluorine is never found by itself in nature but fluorides are found everywhere: in soil, air, and water, as well as in plant and animal life.

Fluoride is commonly added to tap water, particularly in North America, and used in dental products to help prevent tooth decay.

Fluorides are important industrial chemicals with a number of uses but the largest uses are for the production of aluminium and specialty chemicals used for refrigeration and air conditioning through fluorocarbons, for drinking-water fluoridation and for the manufacture of fluoridated dental preparations.

In excessive amounts, fluoride can lead to fluorosis.



Folate and folic acid are forms of a water-soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in foods such as leafy green vegetables (like spinach and turnip greens), fruits (like citrus fruits and juices), and dried beans and peas.

They can also be taken as supplements, for instance by women who may become pregnant to prevent certain birth defects. (Source: GreenFacts)

Sufficient folate intake is particularly important in infancy and pregnancy as it helps produce and maintain new cells. Both adults and children need folate to make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia. (Source: GreenFacts, based on Office of Dietary Supplements Folate   )

Food & Agriculture Organization

"The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. FAO is also a source of knowledge and information. We help developing countries and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. Since our founding in 1945, we have focused special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70 percent of the world's poor and hungry people. FAO's activities comprise four main areas:

  • Putting information within reach
  • Sharing policy expertise.
  • Providing a meeting place for nations.
  • Bringing knowledge to the field. "
Free sugars

"Free sugars" are all monosaccharides [simple sugars] and disaccharides [sugars composed of two monosaccharides] (including refined sugars from cane, beet and corn) added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices. (Source: CBC Sugar Surprise  )


The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. (Source: NHGRI Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms  )


Glucose is naturally occurring sugar and a primary source of energy for living organisms, including humans. Its chemical formula is C6H12O6. (Source: GreenFacts)


Inflammation of the liver caused by viruses (viral hepatitis) or by chronic exposure to medicines or toxins such as alcohol.

Symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of the skin caused by the buildup of bile pigments in the body), fever, appetite loss and gastrointestinal upset. (Source: GreenFacts)



Chemical messengers that help our body do different tasks. Hormones are produced by the endocrine glands and then sent all over the body to stimulate certain activities. For example, insulin is a well-known hormone that helps our body digest food. Hormones regulate our growth, digestion, reproduction and sexual function. (Source: EMCOM Endocrine disruptors glossary  )

Hydrogenated fats

Hydrogenated fats (also called trans-fatty acids) are manufactured fats created during a process called hydrogenation whereby hydrogen units are added to polyunsaturated fatty acids to prevent them from becoming rancid and to keep them solid at room temperature.

Examples of foods that contain high levels of hydrogenated fats are stick margarine, fast foods, commercial baked goods (donuts, cookies, crackers), processed foods, and fried foods.


Impaired glucose tolerance

A transition phase between normal glucose tolerance and diabetes, also referred to as prediabetes.

In impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), the levels of blood glucose are between normal and diabetic.

People with IGT do not have diabetes.



Inflammation is the reaction of living tissues to infection, irritation or other injury. (Source: GreenFacts)



A hormone made by [certain] cells of the pancreas. Insulin controls the amount of sugar in the blood by moving it into the cells, where it can be used by the body for energy. (Source: St Jude's Children's Hospital: Medical Terminology & Drug Database  )



Iodine is a trace element that is necessary for the body to produce the thyroid hormone.

It is a bluish-black, lustrous nonmetallic solid element that mainly occurs in nature under its stable form, iodine-127. Stable iodine is naturally present for instance in seaweeds, sponges, and shell fish. It is also artificially added to salt.



Molecules that are a combination of fat and protein and that transports fats and fat-like substances, such as cholesterol, in the blood. (Source: GreenFacts)



A state of bad nourishment.

Malnutrition refers both to undernutrition and overnutrition, as well as to conditions arising from dietary imbalances leading to diet-related noncommunicable diseases. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment  Glossary )

Mean / Median

In statistics, mean and median both provide an idea of where the “middle” of a sample is.

The mean (or average) is the sum of all scores divided by the number of scores. For instance the sum of individual ages of persons in a group divided by the number of persons in the group, gives the average age.

The median is the number in a range of scores that falls exactly in the middle so that 50% of the cases are above or below. (Source: GreenFacts)



The conversion or breakdown of a substance from one form to another by an enzyme. (Source: GreenFacts, based on ATSDR Glossary of Terms )



The formula weight in grams of an element or compound. For example, the molecular weight of calcium is 40, and one mole of calcium equals 40 grams.

It can also be defined as the quantity of chemical that contains 6.02 x 1023 (Avogadro’s number) atoms or molecules of that substance. (Source: GreenFacts)



Mollusks are a large group of soft-bodied invertebrates that are widespread in salt water, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats. Examples of mollusks include snails, clams, squids, octopus, and cuttlefish.

Most mollusks have a muscular foot and a hard, calcareous outer shell protecting their soft body, but some, as in the squid and octopus, lack this type of shell. (Source: GreenFacts)


Mortality rate

A measure of frequency of occurrence of death in a defined population during a specified interval of time. (Source: CDC Reproductive Health Glossary   )


The approximately 20 chemical elements known to be essential for the growth of living organisms, including nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and carbon. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Glossary   )



Obesity is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30.0 or greater (Source: GreenFacts, based on WHO Obesity  )



A disease of adults that is characterized by softening of the bones due to loss of bone mineral. Osteomalacia is characteristic of vitamin D deficiency in adults, while children with vitamin D deficiency suffer from rickets. (Source:  Health Terms and Definitions  )



Disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue, which leads to fragile bones and a greater risk of fracture, particularly in older people. (Source: GreenFacts Digest on Diet and Nutrition)



A large, elongated gland located behind the lower portion of the stomach that secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon into the blood. These hormones are essential in regulating blood sugar levels.

The pancreas also secretes enzymes into the small intestine that help with digestion and neutralize acid from the stomach. (Source: GreenFacts)



The pharynx is the part of the digestive system of many animals immediately behind the mouth and in front of the esophagus. In mammals, it is where the digestive tract and the respiratory tract cross, commonly called the "throat" (which term may also include the larynx). The human pharynx is bent at a sharper angle than other mammal pharynges, enabling us to produce a wider variety of sounds, but also putting us in danger of choking.

The human pharynx is divided into three sections: the nasopharynx, lying behind the nasal cavity; the oropharynx, behind the oral cavity [including soft palate, base of the tongue and tonsils]; and the laryngopharynx [also named hypopharynx], posterior to the larynx. (Source: GreenFacts )



Phytonutrients are naturally occurring components of plants that may have a role in human health.

Some phytochemicals, such as vitamin C and E, folate, and beta-carotene, are universally recognized as playing an important role in the maintenance of health. (Source: BCM Facts and Answers )



A group or number of people living within a specified area or sharing similar characteristics (such as occupation or age). (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )



The frequency of a disease may be measured in two (standard) ways:

  • Prevalence is the total number of persons known to have had the disease at any time during a specific period. It gives an idea of the importance/burden of disease at a given time, and it is widely used in public health monitoring and planning.
  • Incidence

A large molecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids in a specific order, formed according to genetic information.



Any compound capable of being converted into a vitamin by the body. (Source: Vitamins glossary  )



Energy moving in the form of particles or waves. Familiar radiations are heat, light, radio waves, and microwaves. Ionizing radiation is a very high-energy form of electromagnetic radiation. (Source: US Center for Disease Control and Prevention Glossary of Radiological Terms   )



Sodium is an essential element (chemical formula: Na) that the body needs to function properly, in order to regulate blood pressure and blood volume and for the functioning of muscles and nerves.

Sodium occurs naturally in most foods, mainly as sodium chloride (NaCl), but also in other forms such as sodium nitrate, sodium phosphate, or sodium glutamate. (Source: GreenFacts)



Complex carbohydrate used by plants as a way to store glucose (sugar). It is found in potatoes, white rice, bread, corn, wheat and other foods (Source: GreenFacts)


A stroke is the sudden and instant death of brain cells following an interruption of the blood supply to the brain.

Ischemic strokes generally occur when a blood clot blocks one of the blood vessels in the brain resulting in a temporary or permanent loss of oxygen supply to the brain. They are the most common form of stroke, accounting for 80% of strokes.

Haemorrhagic strokes account for 20% of strokes and are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, causing bleeding into the brain tissue and depriving some areas of oxygen.

Depending on the area of the brain affected, a stroke can cause the paralysis of the arms, legs and facial muscles, weakness, loss of vision and speech, unconsciousness, or death. (Source: GreenFacts)



The likelihood of producing a significantly larger-than-average response to a specified exposure to a substance.



A characteristic or state whereby the needs of the present and local population can be met without compromising the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs.



Swollen, usually underground plant parts that store food and bear buds from which new plant shoots arise.

Examples of tubers include potatoes, radishes, manioc, and dahlias. (Source: GreenFacts)



Vitamins are a group of organic micronutrients that are required by the body for healthy growth, development and immune system functioning.

Certain vitamins are produced by the body but most vitamins are obtained from food or from manufactured dietary supplements. (Source: GreenFacts)


World Health Organization

"The World Health Organization  (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations’ system. WHO experts produce health guidelines and standards, and help countries to address public health issues. WHO also supports and promotes health research. Through WHO, governments can jointly tackle global health problems and improve people’s well-being.

193 countries and two associate members are WHO’s membership. They meet every year at the World Health Assembly in Geneva to set policy for the Organization, approve the Organization’s budget, and every five years, to appoint the Director-General. Their work is supported by the 34-member Executive Board, which is elected by the Health Assembly. Six regional committees focus on health matters of a regional nature."

WHO's scientific publications are widely recognized as a reference source.

The WHO has a number of regional offices which address the specific issues of those regions.

WHO World Regional Offices
  WHO African Region  (46 countries)
  WHO European Region  (53 countries)
  WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region  (21 countries)
  WHO Region of the Americas  (35 countries)
  WHO South-East Asia Region  (11 countries)
  WHO Western Pacific Region  (27 countries)

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