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Nutrition Facts: Glossary and Definitions

Calories. The number of calories listed on a food label tells you how many calories are in one serving. It’s important to remember that even small packages often contain more than one serving.

Carbohydrate. A sugar or starch such as pasta, bread, fruits. vegetables, beans, or dairy that the body uses as its main energy source. Carbohydrates have 4 calories a gram.

Cholesterol. Vital for building hormones and cell membranes. Your body makes most of the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is listed under the fat information on a nutrition label. Most people should consume less than 300 mg of cholesterol daily.

Daily value. This shows the percentage of a certain nutrient in a food, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The daily value gives you an idea of a food's nutrient contribution to your diet; 5% or less is considered low for that nutrient, 10% to 19% is good, and 20% or more is high.

Dietary fiber. The part of plant foods that we cannot digest. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain fiber. Fiber helps fill you up, can help lower cholesterol, and keeps you regular. You need at least 25 to 38 grams daily. To be considered high in fiber, a food must contain least 5 grams per serving.

Enriched. Enriched foods have nutrients added to them to replace those lost during food processing. B vitamins, for example, are lost when wheat is processed into white flour, so these nutrients are later added back.

Fortified. Fortified foods have nutrients added to them that weren’t there originally. Milk, for example, is fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that helps you absorb milk’s calcium.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A sweetener that is often used instead of sugar in food manufacturing.

Hydrogenated. Hydrogenation turns a liquid fat such as vegetable oil into a semi-solid, more shelf-stable fat, such as margarine. Most oils are only partially hydrogenated, which creates harmful trans fats that can raise cholesterol.

Lecithin. Added to chocolates, baking products, and cosmetics, lecithin is used as a thinner, a preservative, or an emulsifier. Egg yolks, soy beans, fish, and other foods naturally contain lecithin.

Modified food starch. Extracted from corn, potato, wheat, and other starches, modified food starch is used as a thickener, stabilizer, or fat replacer in foods like dessert mixes, dressings, and confections.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG). Used as a flavor enhancer, MSG is like salt. Though some people may have a mild reaction after consuming MSG, the FDA recognizes MSG as “generally safe” when “eaten at customary levels.”

Monounsaturated fat. A healthy fat found in foods such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados. When used to replace saturated fats, a diet high in monounsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol. Most of the fat in your diet should be mono- and polyunsaturated. All fats have 9 calories per gram.

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