Savvy Shoppers Glossary


Have you ever wondered what some of those words on the nutrition facts label and the ingredients lists really mean?  Manufacturers are getting more and more clever in choosing words to put on their labels and the confused shopper is left to “trust” the manufacturer.  We have decided that it is time you know what you are putting into you and your child’s body.  Here are some definitions to help you make better choices in the supermarket.

Ascorbic acid: This is just another name for vitamin C.  It is a citrus fruit derivative and acts as a preservative, helping prevent oxidation.  When you add lemon or lime to avocado to prevent it from turning brown, you are adding ascorbic acid.

Acacia and guar gum: These are binding agents and help thicken food and are harvested from the tree or shrub with the same name.

FDA: Food and Drug Administration – regulates food labeling and packaging.

Food additives/colors: Chemically created substances that are added to foods to enhance flavor or appearance.
– These “excitotoxins” are known to alter the chemistry of the brain and include artificial sweeteners like aspartame, MSG, food colorings and
– Have no nutritional value.
– Linked to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers.
– A child’s growing brain if four times more sensitive to excitotoxins.
– Can cause severe headaches and mood swings in both children and adults.

GRAS: Generally recommended as safe. This means that the product is generally recognized by the scientific community as safe to add to foods but that it might not have been specifically tested for adverse effects.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS): An inexpensive sweetener added to many processed food items, especially “low-fat” foods.  Because of it is
not a ‘natural’ product it does not break down quickly, therefore extending the shelf life for a multitude of products.  A chemical process developed in the 1970’s that converts the semi-sweet cornstarch (corn) sugars to much-sweeter fructose.
– Unlike natural sugars, HFCS does not trigger the release of the hormone leptin, part of the body’s natural system that creates the feeling of
fullness and satisfaction.  Those who have HFCS regularly in their diet are more likely to overeat.
– HFCS is believed to increase blood fats more than the same amount of table sugar, causing a rise in bad cholesterol which has been linked
to heart disease.

Hydrogenated oils (or partially hydrogenated oils): An unhealthy fat that results from food manufacturers pumping hydrogen gas into vegetable oil, a process called “hydrogenation.” This process chemically changes these unsaturated fats and provides some economical advantages for food manufacturers.  First, hydrogenation helps oil withstand higher heat (like deep-frying in many fast food restaurants) and second, it gives products a longer shelf-life because these chemically altered fats don’t spoil as fast as natural oils.
– Our bodies do not recognize these chemically altered fats like natural fats, so when these unnatural fats are absorbed into our body’s cell
– membranes, they become more rigid and they interfere with the cell membranes’ growth and function.
– Hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils are known to raise cholesterol, decrease immunity, increase heart disease, increase many
cancers, increase the chance of developing diabetes, and increase abdominal fat, which in turn increases the risk of many other diseases. 
– Also see “Trans-fats”

L. bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, L. acidophilus, Bifidus, L. casei, and L. reuteri: These are all beneficial bacteria and are often added to yogurt.  Beneficial bacteria help the body in the digestion process.

Lecithin: Made from a component of soybeans or egg yolks and is used to help foods stay moist.

Minimally processed: Raw material is not fundamentally altered.

– Meat, poultry, and eggs: legally can contain no artificial ingredients or added colors.  They can only be minimally processed.

– All other foods:
‘Natural’ has no legal meaning. The FDA has no definition of the term ‘natural.’ This means that companies can put a ‘natural’
label on almost any product.

– Organic: Organic production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and
persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones,
genetic engineering and other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Cloning animals or using their products would be considered
inconsistent with organic practices.  Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation to
maintain the integrity of the food.
(Source: <;)

Trans-fats: The fat that results from a vegetable oil that has gone through the process of “hydrogenation.”  These fats are called “trans-fats” because the process of hydrogenation transports atoms from one side of the fat molecule to the other. 
– If an ingredients label has the words “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated oils” listed the product contains trans-fats.  
– If trans-fats are less than .5% of a serving, the food manufacturer can legally say “No trans fats” on the packaging. 

Healthy shopping!

Source:, (c) Dr. Sears, used by permission

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1 Comment

  1. salonnatural said,

    March 1, 2010 at 2:01 am

    That was incredibly informative! I realized the need to avoid most of those ingredients, but didn’t actually understand the “why” behind it. Thanks for sharing!

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