Know what you’re saying and say what you mean — it’s time to stop throwing those buzzwords around. This is your one-stop shop for health food terms to help you talk the talk, walk the walk, and shop confidently.
Ak-ti-veyt (v.), 1. The act of soaking nuts and seeds in water to improve digestibility and unlock their nutrients.
We all know nuts and seeds are superfoods, but they contain substances that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb their nutrients. When consumed in large quantities they’re actually toxic for our digestive system (and not in the fun Brittney Spears Toxic kinda way). Soaking is a way to unlock vital nutrients and neutralize enzyme inhibitors, making it easier for us to digest and absorb all the good stuff.
Ah-dahp-toe-jens (n.), 1. Naturally occurring, non-toxic substances that help increase the body’s resistance to stress.
In order to qualify as an adaptogen, a plant or fungi must
- be safe, non-toxic and not habit-forming
- be non-specific (they must help a variety of bodily systems and help protect the body from a variety of stressors)
- help the body maintain a state of overall balance (and in turn, function properly)
So it’s time to ADAPTogen or DIE! Okay, that’s a bit extreme. But who isn’t drawn to the idea of lower stress? Keep calm and adaptogen on.
An-tee-ok-si-duhnt (n.), 1. A natural compound that counteracts the damaging effects of oxidation in the body.
Like the ever-eternal battle between the forces of light and darkness (Star Wars? Anyone… anyone?), antioxidants are our defender against oxidation, a chemical reaction that occurs when something is combined with oxygen. Too much oxidation can be harmful to our bodies, in the same way it causes cars to rust and makes fruit rancid. Luckily, a lot of foods are packed with antioxidants which protect our cells. May the antioxidant force be with you.
(Load up your smoothie with antioxidant goodness! Photo from The Blender Girl.)
Bee-guhn (n.), 1. A person who omits the consumption and/or use of animal products, with the exception of bee products.
A beegan is essentially a vegan except that they still consume bee products and burn beeswax candles late into the night.
Bahy-oh-dahy-nam-iks (n.), 1. A holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming, food and nutrition.
You know that one really bohemian friend you have? The one who makes their own compost for their garden and has crystals all over their house and makes their own sprouted grain bread? Well, biodynamic farming (or gardening) is kind of like your bohemian friend.
Everything is produced on the farm’s premises, from the seeds used to grow food to the animal manure used for fertilizer. As with organic practices, biodynamics uses no artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or hormones. The farm acts as an integrated, harmonized, living organism made up of many interdependent elements, including plants, animals, soil, compost, people and the spirit of the place. It’s a balanced ecosystem in which farmers plan their activities according to the rhythm and cycles of the earth and cosmos.
Bu-lit-proof (n.), 1. Coffee blended with butter and MCT oil (See MCTs).
The addition of saturated fats and medium chain triglycerides to coffee has been said to increase cognitive ability, stabilize blood sugar, and even boost weight loss. This is definitely the beverage of choice for those consuming a low-carb, high-fat diet, and has become widely popular as of late. On the wave of the original’s hype, cafes and consumers have been blending up their own bulletproof-inspired wellness lattes with bases from cacao to matcha, and fats such as nut butter, tahini and coconut butter. How long do you think it’ll take for Tim Horton’s double-double to make the switch from cream and sugar to butter and MCT oil?
Keyj-free (adj.), 1. Eggs that come from chickens raised without cages.
Cage-free poultry live in a massive industrial barn that can house thousands of chickens at a time. This may not evoke the picturesque farm you had in mind, but the reality is that Old MacDonald has left the building, y’all! That being said, this practice allows chickens to roam the barn freely, stretch their wings, and lay their eggs in a nest. These are all natural behaviours that are important to a chicken’s wellbeing and in turn, the quality of the eggs it lays (and we consume!).
(Happy birds lay quality eggs. Photo from Pinch of Yum.)
Sur-tuh-fahyd Tran-zish-uhn-ul (adj.) 1. Food that’s grown on land that is in the process of becoming organic.
This pretty much only applies to Kashi, but it’s a neat-o concept so I thought I’d include it. Land that has been used for conventional agriculture requires a 3 year detox, if you may, before it can be certified organic in North America. The “certified transitional” label indicates that the product is grown by farmers making the switch from conventional to organic, but are currently in a grey area until the land is fully cleansed of all non-organic compounds.
Dee-hahy-dreyt (v.) 1. The process of removing the water or moisture from food.
This is how most of your trail mix is made in order to preserve it for long journeys. The term is also commonly used in connection with raw food diets (also called living foods) in which a dehydrator can be used to add crispiness to food. As long as temperatures are kept between 105°F/41°C and 115°F/46°C, foods still qualify as raw once dried. It’s also an important step after soaking nuts (See Activated) to crisp them up again. Because no one wants to eat soggy nuts. That’s right. Soggy. Nuts.
Ee-ef-eys (n.), 1. The initials for Essential Fatty Acids, which are fatty acids necessary for health that cannot be made by the body, and as such must be supplied through the diet (and/or supplementation).
There are two kinds of EFAs, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and true to their name, they are essential to one’s health. In a typical North American diet, it’s much easier to get Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3s, as Omega 6 EFAs are found in many nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetable oils. While these two EFAs work in tandem, overconsumption of Omega 6 at the expense of Omega 3 can be problematic, as Omega 6 are pro-inflammatory. In fact, research indicates that many health issues are at least partly tied to the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3. While the ideal ratio continues to be debated (researchers typically suggest anywhere from 1:1 to 4:1), it’s clear that the typical North American ratio of between 10:1 and 20:1 is far too high. The two must be consumed in balance for optimal health, and therefore it’s best to view EFAs as an inseparable pair. Like yin and yang, the sun and moon, PB & J, Han Solo and Chewbacca, mashed potatoes and gravy. Oh, the list goes on.
(Chia seeds are a great way to get Omega-3 fatty acids. Photo from Feasting on Fruit.)
Fur-men-tey-shuh (n.), 1. Converting carbohydrates into alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms, such as yeast or bacteria.
Fermented foods are full of probiotics, or live bacteria, that aid digestion and support gut flora. Gut flora are microorganisms located in our digestive track that help with bodily functions. Having an imbalance of gut flora can compromise health — and not just gut health, but even mental health and immunity. Fermented foods help to keep gut flora in check and ensure they don’t turn into an unruly garden.
Free-reynj (adj.), 1. Livestock and poultry raised without cages, with some access to the outdoors.
Free-range is very similar to Cage-free (See Cage-free), except that the animals have additional access to the outdoors. This typically consists of a screened-in porch varying in size. Note: there is currently no regulation for the size of this outdoor space. Is this still not the farming image you had in mind? Do you feel betrayed by marketers? Are you shaking your fist at anyone humming Old MacDonald? I feel you. (See Pasture-raised).
Fuhngk-shuh-nl (adj.), 1. Foods that may have a positive effect on the body beyond basic nutrition.
A commonly consumed functional food is your everyday fortified orange juice. Vitamin D is added to some orange juice brands to enhance the benefits beyond nutritional value. However, functional foods exist naturally as well, like herbs that benefit different bodily systems and adaptogenic mushrooms that can reduce stress levels (see Adaptogens). Now that’s putting the FUN into FUNgus (see #DadJokes).
Jee-em-oh (adj.), 1. The initials for Genetically Modified Organisms, foods that have had their DNA altered through genetic engineering.
The argument on whether GMOs are good or bad for us is not so black and white. More and more studies are coming out that declare GMOs are safe to eat, can increase crop yield, and can reduce the need for pesticides. However, other GMOs require greater herbicide and fungicide use which is toxic to the environment, and the overproduction of crops can lead to soil degradation. There are thousands of scientific studies looking into GMOs, and about a third of them are independently funded. When doing your research, make sure you look at who’s funding the study to ensure it’s not a biased article financed by self-promoting GM companies or wild fear-mongers.
(Almost all sugar beets are genetically modified! Photo from Crowded Kitchen.)
Gloot-n Free (adj.), 1. Food containing no gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains (including wheat, rye and barley) that gives dough that spongey elastic texture. More and more people are finding that gluten causes uncomfortable digestive reactions, while others like celiacs are full-blown allergic to the protein. Gluten is not to be confused with the word glutton, which is someone who is a passionate overeater (also known as gourmand, gorger, or guzzler). Of course, now that there are so many gluten-free options available, it is very possible to be a gorging gluten-free gourmanding guzzler.
Greyn Free (adj.), 1. A food that does not contain any grains.
2. A diet in which all grains have been eliminated and replaced with plant-based complex carbohydrates.
Those following the paleo diet (See Paleo) are typically grain-free. If paleo dieters wish to bake, they may choose to use almond flour, coconut flour, arrowroot powder, or roll a joint.
Hel-thee Fatz (n.), 1. Fats that can help to lower levels of cholesterol, such as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids and high quality saturated fats.
Remember when we were pushed to believe that fat was the enemy? (We’re looking at you, Jenny Craig.) Today, many have seen the error of their ways. Fat is our friend! That is, healthy fats that primarily come from plant-based foods and oils are our friends. So cozy on up to those avocados, and become bosom buddies with fatty fish, nuts and seeds, coconut oil and more!
Kee-toh (n.), 1. Short for Ketogenic Diet, which is a high-fat, low-carb eating plan.
Due to a low consumption of carbs, the keto diet pushes the body into the metabolic state of ketosis which burns fat for energy. Fascinating Fact: the keto diet was first introduced in the 1920s to help patients with epilepsy. Many more people are following keto, including fitness types and bodybuilders to bulk up. #KetoCut! (Is this a real hashtag? It’s got a good ring to it. Let’s make this happen.)
Em-see-tees (n.), 1. The initials for medium-chain triglycerides, healthy fatty acids commonly extracted from coconuts.
MCTs are a healthy fat that is easily digestible. It’s often blended into coffee to make Bulletproof coffee (See Bulletproof). Some of its touted benefits include weight loss and increased levels of energy. A less discussed benefit is that its oiliness leaves you with lips glossier than Kylie Jenner’s.
(MCTs are a great addition to any coffee beverage. Photo by Laura Wright.)
Awr-gan-ik (adj.), 1. Food produced without the use of man-made fertilizers, pesticides, genetic modification, or hormones.
Eating organic is not only less toxic for the body, but it’s also the more holistic and environmentally friendly approach to farming compared to conventional agriculture. Look at that — a health term that doesn’t completely make humans the centre of attention. Brava!
Pey-lee-oh (combining form), 1. A nutritional approach that is based on the foods that were available to humans in Paleolithic times.
The paleo diet is high in protein and low in carbs. It’s thought to improve health by eliminating many of the processed, high sugar foods prevalent in modern diets. Just to be clear, the Paleolithic epoch was about 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago. Those are some old dinner guests.
Pas-cher-reyzd (adj.), 1. Animals raised for consumption that spend the majority of their time in the outdoors with access to a barn.
Pasture-raised animals have access to the outdoors, which allows for a more diverse diet of grass and bugs in addition to their farm feed. This is probably the best “label” to purchase in terms of highest quality of life for the animal and nutrition for the consumer. That is, unless you have the ability to raise and process your own meat and eggs (condo-dwellers really need to push for the whole roof-top barn thing).
Pes-tuh-sahyds (n.), 1. A manmade chemical substance used to kill harmful insects and organisms that pose a threat to cultivated plants or animals.
Although pesticides are used to protect farmed crops and animals, their chemical make-up is known to pollute the environment, compromise soil quality (and in turn crops’ nutrient levels), and have harmful health effects on humans and animals. Pesticides are very hard to contain because they leach through soils and end up in our waterbed, which means the effects of these chemicals are easily wide-spread. Organic (See Organic) and Biodynamic (See Biodynamic) foods do not use pesticides and instead, rely on integrative farming practices to control pests and disease. If making the complete switch to organic is a challenge for you, start by swapping out the Dirty Dozen for the organic version — and be sure to give everything else a deep-cleaning scrub.
(Mrs. Sheep, do you think pesticides are a good or baaaaaahhd idea? Photo by Sam Carter.)
Proh-bahy-ot-ik (n.), 1. Microorganisms (live bacteria and yeast) that are beneficial to gut health, mental health and immunity.
(See Fermentation.) (It’s above.) (Please, see it!) (I’m running out of wit.)
Pree-bahy-ot-ik (n.), 1. A type of fiber that feeds healthy bacteria in your gut.
Foods high in fiber are prebiotics, and feed probiotics so that they can do their job. A way to look at it is such: if probiotics are like seamonkeys swimming around in your gut, then prebiotics are the food you give seamonkeys to keep ‘em swimming.
Ri-fahynd Shoo-ger (n.), 1. Sugar that has gone through a chemical process that removes impurities and nutrients.
Contrary to its name, refined sugar is not a refined Lady and/or Sir. It’s completely void of nutrients (blasphemous!), vitamins (abominable!) and minerals (offensive!). Natural and unrefined sugars are always the better option.
Sprou-ted (adj.), 1. Seeds that have been germinated.
Did you know that cooking food reduces its anti-nutritional compounds, making nutrients more available? For those following the raw food diet, consuming sprouted foods (or seeds that are starting to grow) creates the same effect.
(Add tasty sprouts to just about anything! Photo from My New Roots.)
Soo-per-foods (n.), 1. Foods that are considered exceptionally beneficial to health and are high in nutrients.
First, there was Superman and Superwoman. Next, ABBA’s Super Trouper. Now we have identified superfoods — foods that are nutrient-rich and extremely healthy. Who will be our next super? Only the stars hold the answer. (Or marketers. Or the Eurovision Song Contest.)
Tey-buhl-sawlt (n.), 1. Salt that has been heavily refined and ground to remove impurities and prevent clumping.
Table salt goes through a hefty “purifying” process that virtually strips it of all minerals and nutrients. It gets it name because it is commonly found on the tables of homes and restaurants, but it should probably be booted to a galaxy far, far away from here. If you are consuming salt (in healthy moderation, of course), choose sea salt or Himalayan salt which are less refined and chock-full of electrolytes and minerals necessary for the body.