Food Terms Glossary

June 4, 2019

There are lots of food industry terms that you come in contact with every day. We’re breaking down these food terms with some facts and definitions (or lack thereof):

Added Sugars

This term was just recently defined by the FDA since the new nutrition labels coming out in 2020 require added sugars to be labeled. In their words, added sugars are those added in during processing that are in excess of what could be found in natural ingredients added (ex: fruit juices).

No Added Sugars does NOT mean sugar-free, however. Sugars can still exist if it’s naturally in an added food ingredient (ex: fruit juice), or comes from the breakdown of starches in food.

All Natural

The term “natural” is commonly misunderstood and misused—probably because the claim isn’t really regulated by the FDA. With that said, the FDA seems okay with using this term if the foods contain natural ingredients with no added artificial ingredients. Just keep in mind that natural doesn’t always equal healthy.


Antioxidants are compounds that act as our body’s best defense against disease-causing free radicals. These free radicals can damage your cells and DNA, accelerating anything from aging to cancer. Antioxidants are a good addition to your diet and should be considered. Some good snacks packed with antioxidants include walnuts, dark chocolate almonds and dried dates.


According to the FDA, artificial ingredients are those that are “not found in nature and therefore must be synthetically produced as artificial ingredients.”  When you see products that claim “no artificial additives,” it actually means what it says.


A current buzzword for food products, artisinal simply means a product made in limited batches in a traditional or non-mechanized way.


Sugar has next to no nutritional value and a diet high in sugar could set you on the road to many health risks. A common name for sugar that you’ll find in an ingredient label is fructose.  If watching sugar intake is a concern for you, you’ll want to look out for fructose and its other names such as sucrose, maltose, lactose, honey, syrups, galactose and dextrose dextrin. Pretty much any word on a label that ends with “ose” is likely some form of sugar.


Functional foods are labeled such because they have health benefits beyond filling you up with calories. Depending on the functional ingredients, they often claim to reduce the risk of disease, aid digestion, relaxation, beauty benefits, improve nutrient absorption, or boost your metabolism.


A hot topic in the food industry, GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. This process means that the genetic characteristics that make up an organism are being artificially modified in order to achieve a new property. If you see a product labeled “Non-GMO” or “GMO-Free,” it means the ingredients used are not from organisms that have had their genetic material manipulated or altered in a lab. The term will soon be regulated by the FDA although the specifics are still in process. Independent programs like the Non-GMO Project currently have certifications that food manufacturers use. There is mass discussion about the health impacts of GMOs. The National Academy of Sciences recently concluded in a 400-page document that there’s no evidence to support GMOs pose any health risk.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener that’s created by adding enzymes to break down corn into sugar. The problem here is that your body breaks down fructose differently from glucose, and it can’t use as much of it for energy. This leads to increased levels of negative benefits to your health when consumed in large doses.


Kosher products are in very high demand in the U.S., particularly in the Northeast. Kosher signifies food is fit and prepared according to the guidelines of the Jewish faith. According to the Food Marketing Institute, 60 percent of the products on grocery shelves bear some sort of certification and these account for $150 billion in sales annually. In addition, 3,000 new kosher products are introduced every year, showcasing a rapidly growing market. There are over 400 kosher certifiers worldwide and the products must be certified kosher in the facilities they are produced.


“Local” isn’t officially defined or monitored. While it is definitely a claim consumers are interested in, purchasers, producers, wholesalers and retailers in the industry all have differing definitions of the term local and how far this term can stretch.

Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium glutamate (commonly known as MSG) is a form of sodium that can be naturally present in some foods and can be added to others. When added to foods, it is used as an affordable flavor enhancer. It can intensify salty and savory flavors while masking bitterness or sourness.



Omega-3s are a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which basically just means they’re liquid at room temperature. Omega-3 fatty acids are known as good fat which helps our cells function properly and have been known to aid in reducing inflammation, cholesterol levels, body fat, and hunger.

Some great omega-3 foods to incorporate into your diet include walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.


Organic is definitely one of the most complex terms out there. When a food is labeled “organic”, it has a lot of certification to back it up. A lot of effort goes into protecting that label and ensuring that manufacturers and farmers are producing food that consumers can trust. Organic, in the US, guarantees no toxic synthetic pesticides and herbicides were used during production.

Something to consider is that all organic products are also non-GMO by legal definition. So, if you purchase organic products, you don’t have to worry if GMOs exist in those products too.


Probiotics are live bacterial cultures that we consume naturally in unpasteurized fermented foods. They’re believed to be beneficial to our overall health through restoring a proper balance to our guts and can help to absorb essential nutrients, keep appetite in check, lower inflammation, and regulate body weight.


Prebiotics are a group of carbs, specifically soluble fibers, which pass through your large intestine undigested, making their way to your gut. Here, they are digested by the bacteria that live in your gut (the probiotics). Prebiotics promote gut health by supporting the health of probiotics.

Saturated Fat

The body needs fat to maintain a healthy diet, but saturated fat is commonly known as the bad kind of fat. Several ingredient names to look out for that can qualify as saturated fat are; butter, cocoa butter, palm oil, powdered whole milk solids, lard, and coconut oil. Diets that are high in saturated fat could lead to high cholesterol. Be mindful of this ingredient and try to enjoy in moderation.

Soy Lecithin

You may have seen soy lecithin make an appearance on your ingredients label from time to time. Sounding more complicated than it actually is, Soy lecithin is an extraction from raw soybeans. It’s typically used as an emulsifier to help improve the appearance of food products or as a binding agent.


The only thing sugar-free means is that a product doesn’t have refined cane sugar. It doesn’t mean the food doesn’t have other “natural” sweeteners like agave, artificial sweeteners, or sugar alcohols. While some of these natural sweeteners can be okay for your health, you should always look closely if trying to avoid sugar.


Simply put, superfoods are nutrient-dense foods that are often hailed as being especially beneficial to your health.

Tags: common food terms, food glossary, food label terms, food terms

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