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Glossary of Terms Related to Healthy Eating, Obesity, Physical Activity, and Weight Control


Macronutrient (mac-roh-NOO-tree-ent) A macronutrient is any nutrient that the body uses in relatively large amounts. They include carbohydrates, fat, and protein [see definitions]. These are different from micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, which the body needs in smaller amounts.

Metabolic syndrome (meh-TAB-o-lik SIND-rome) A person with metabolic syndrome has a group of medical problems that, when they occur together, may increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. These problems are a large waist size, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, high levels of triglycerides, and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Metabolism (meh-TAB-o-liszm) The process that occurs in the body to turn the food you eat into energy your body can use.

Monounsaturated fat (mono-un-SATCH-er-ay-ted) This type of fat is found in avocados, canola oil, nuts, olives and olive oil, and seeds. Eating food that has more monounsaturated fat (or "healthy fat") instead of saturated fat (like butter) may help lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk. However, monounsaturated fat has the same number of calories as other types of fat and may contribute to weight gain if you eat too much of it.

Muscle-strengthening activity A type of physical activity that promotes the growth and strength of muscles. Examples include lifting weights and doing push-ups and sit-ups. Federal guidelines recommend that adults do activities that strengthen muscles at least twice a week.

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Nutrient dense Nutrient-dense foods and drinks provide important vitamins and minerals and relatively few calories. The term "nutrient dense" also means that these foods and drinks have not been processed or prepared in a way that added a lot of calories from refined starches, sodium, solid fats, or sugar. Examples include fat-free and low-fat milk products or substitutes; fruits and vegetables; protein sources such as beans and peas, eggs, lean meats, poultry, seafood, and unsalted nuts and seeds; and whole grains.

Nutrition (new-TRISH-un) (1) The process of the body using food to sustain life. (2) The study of food and diet.

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Obesity (oh-BEE-si-tee) Obesity refers to excess body fat. Because body fat is usually not measured directly, a ratio of body weight to height is often used instead. It is defined as BMI [see body mass index]. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

Oils Fats that are liquid at room temperature, oils come from many different plants and from seafood. Some common oils include canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils. A number of foods are naturally high in oils, such as avocados, olives, nuts, and some fish. Federal dietary guidelines [see Resources] encourage Americans to replace solid fats with oils when possible.

Overweight Overweight refers to an excessive amount of body weight that includes muscle, bone, fat, and water. A person who has a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 [see body mass index] is considered overweight. It is important to remember that although BMI is related to the amount of body fat, BMI does not directly measure body fat. As a result, some people, such as athletes, may have a BMI that identifies them as overweight even though they do not have excess body fat.

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Pancreas (PAN-kree-as) A gland and an organ that makes enzymes to help the body break down and use nutrients in food. The pancreas also produces the hormone insulin [see definition] and releases it into the bloodstream to help the body control blood sugar levels.

Physical activity Any form of exercise or movement. Physical activity may include planned activities such as walking, running, strength training, basketball, or other sports. Physical activity may also include daily activities such as mowing the lawn, washing the car, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking the dog. Federal guidelines on physical activity recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) of moderate-intensity physical activity for general health benefits. Adults who wish to lose weight or maintain weight loss may need more physical activity, such as 300 minutes (60 minutes a day, 5 days a week). Children should get at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity daily.

Polyunsaturated fat (poly-un-SATCH-er-ay-ted) This type of fat is liquid at room temperature. There are two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs): omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in liquid vegetable oils, such as corn oil, safflower oil, and soybean oil. Omega-3 fatty acids come from plant sources—including canola oil, flaxseed, soybean oil, and walnuts—and from fish and shellfish.

Portion size The amount of a food served or eaten in one occasion. A portion is not a standard amount. The amount of food it includes may vary by person and occasion [see serving size].

Protein (PRO-teen) One of the nutrients that provide calories to the body. Protein is an essential nutrient that helps build many parts of the body, including blood, bone, muscle, and skin. Protein provides 4 calories per gram and is found in foods like beans, dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, nuts, poultry, and tofu.

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Refined grains Any grain that is not a whole grain [see definition] is a refined grain. This includes grains and grain products missing the bran, endosperm, and/or germ. Many refined grains are low in fiber and enriched with iron, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin and fortified with folic acid as required by U.S. regulations. Some examples of refined grain products are white flour, white bread and tortillas, and white rice.

Registered Dietitian (R.D.) A person who has studied diet and nutrition at a college program approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). To become an R.D., a person must complete 900 hours of supervised practical experience accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation for Dietetics Education and must pass an exam.

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Saturated fat (SATCH-er-ay-ted) This type of fat is solid at room temperature. Saturated fat is found in full-fat dairy products (like butter, cheese, cream, regular ice cream, and whole milk), coconut oil, lard, palm oil, ready-to-eat meats, and the skin and fat of chicken and turkey, among other foods. Saturated fats have the same number of calories as other types of fat, and may contribute to weight gain if eaten in excess. Eating a diet high in saturated fat also raises blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease.

Serving size A standard amount of a food, such as a cup or an ounce.

Sodium See dietary sodium.

Solid fats These types of fats are usually not liquid at room temperature. Solid fats are found in most animal foods but also can be made from vegetable oils through hydrogenation [see definition]. Some common solid fats in our diet include beef fat, butter, chicken fat, coconut oil, palm oil, pork fat (lard), shortening, and stick margarine. Foods high in solid fats include full-fat (regular) cheese, cream, ice cream, and whole milk; bacon, poultry skin, regular ground beef, sausages, and well-marbled cuts of meats; and many baked goods (such as cookies, crackers, croissants, donuts, and pastries).

Stroke A stroke occurs when blood flow to your brain stops. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. There are two kinds of stroke. The more common kind, called ischemic stroke, is caused by a blood clot that blocks or plugs a blood vessel in the brain. The other kind, called hemorrhagic stroke, is caused by a blood vessel that breaks and bleeds into the brain. "Mini-strokes," or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), occur when the blood supply to the brain is stopped for a short time.

Sugar-sweetened beverages Drinks that are sweetened with added sugars [see definition] often add a large number of calories. These beverages include, but are not limited to, energy and sports drinks, fruit drinks, soda, and fruit juices.

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Trans fatty acids A type of fat produced when liquid fats (oils) are turned into solid fats through a chemical process called hydrogenation [see definition]. Eating a large amount of trans fatty acid, or "trans fats," also raises blood cholesterol and risk of heart disease.

Triglycerides (Try-GLIH-ser-ides) A type of fat in your blood, triglycerides can contribute to the hardening and narrowing of your arteries if levels are too high. This puts you at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Triglycerides are measured along with cholesterol as part of a blood test. Normal triglyceride levels are below 150 mg/dL. Levels above 200 mg/dL are high.

Type 1 diabetes (dye-ah-BEET-eez) Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disorder that attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. (An autoimmune disorder occurs when the body's immune system, which usually helps the body fight diseases, turns against its own tissue.) Type 1 diabetes was known as "insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus," or "juvenile diabetes." Without insulin, the body is not able to use blood sugar (glucose) for energy. To treat the disease, a person must inject insulin, exercise daily, and test blood sugar several times a day.

Type 2 diabetes (dye-ah-BEET-eez) People with type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but either do not make enough insulin or their bodies do not efficiently use the insulin they make. People with type 2 diabetes may be able to control their condition by losing weight through diet and exercise. They may also need to inject insulin or take medicine along with continuing to follow a healthy eating pattern and being physically active on a regular basis. Type 2 diabetes was known as "noninsulin-dependent diabetes" or "adult-onset diabetes" and is the most common form of diabetes. Children and adolescents who are overweight may also be at risk to develop type 2 diabetes.

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Unsaturated fat (un-SATCH-er-ay-ted) Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Vegetable oils are a major source of unsaturated fat in the diet. Unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats [see definitions]. Other foods, such as avocados, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, most nuts, and olives are good sources of unsaturated fat.

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Very low-calorie diet (VLCD) A VLCD is a diet supervised by a health care professional that typically uses commercially prepared formulas to promote rapid weight loss in some patients who are considered to be obese. People on a VLCD consume about 800 calories a day or less.

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Waist circumference Excess fat around the waist and a larger waist size increase the risk of health problems linked to obesity. Women with a waist size of more than 35 inches or men with a waist size of more than 40 inches have a higher risk of developing health problems linked to obesity, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Weight control This refers to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight with healthy eating and physical activity.

Weight-cycling This refers to losing and gaining weight over and over again.

Whole grains Grains and grain products made from the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel, which consists of the bran, endosperm, and/or germ. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed, or flaked, it must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, endosperm, and germ as the original grain in order to be called whole grain. Many, but not all, whole grains are also a source of dietary fiber.

Whole wheat grains Grains and grain products made from the entire wheat kernel [see whole grains].

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Weight-control Information Network

1 WIN Way
Bethesda, MD 20892–3665
Phone: (202) 828–1025
Toll-free number: 1–877–946–4627
Fax: (202) 828–1028
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The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a national information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). WIN provides the general public, health professionals, and the media with up-to-date, culturally relevant materials and tips. Topics include healthy eating, barriers to physical activity, portion control, and eating and physical activity myths. Publications produced by WIN are reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This e-text was also reviewed by Van S. Hubbard, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Division of Nutrition Research Coordination, NIH; Ana Terry, M.S., R.D., National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Susan Z. Yanovski, M.D., Co-Director, Office of Obesity Research, NIDDK.

This e-text is not copyrighted. WIN encourages users of this e-text to copy and share as many copies as desired.

National Institutes of Health

NIH Publication No. 02-4976
January 2002

Updated March 2013

To contact WIN, call toll free 1–877–946–4627; fax: 202–828–1028; email:;
or write Weight-control Information Network, 1 WIN Way, Bethesda, MD 20892–3665.

Last Modified: May 28, 2013

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