Sustainable Food
Organically grown food is sustainable food. Photo of pink grapefruit by Lynn Seeden | IST.





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May 2005

Last Updated May 2012

Product Reviews / NutriNibbles

Sustainable Food Definition Glossary: Organic & Natural Food Terms

Plus Health & Wellness Definitions

Page 7: Terms Beginning With S To Z



This is page 7 of a 7-page glossary of organic food terms. See also our Glossary of Antioxidant Terms and Eco Terms (Green Glossary). See our entire collection of food glossaries.

Click on a letter to go to the appropriate glossary section:

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Coffee farmers growing the robusta beans are doing so by clear-cutting tracts of indigenous vegetation to cultivate their coffee shrubs. Arabica coffee shrubs, which are less tolerant of imperfections in their surrounding microclimate, are grown under a canopy of shade from taller trees (“overstory” trees), such as banana, plantain, citrus, medicine-producing trees or others native to an area. The overstory trees shield coffee plants from excessive winds and light; they provide natural protection from temperatures and humidity that may be less than ideal. Such coffee is called “shade grown.” One of the most important aspects of shade grown coffee is its effect on biodiversity.
Instead of felling the forest, shade grown coffee maintains the canopy of trees. Photo courtesy

Since the introduction of robusta coffee and the clearing of innumerable acres of vegetation to support its cultivation, populations of many migratory songbirds have been in serious decline; they help keep down populations of insects that affect coffee (and other) plants and their presence eliminates the need for much of the use of pesticides.  Here’s a longer discussion of shade-grown coffee.  See also bird friendly.

Pastured cattle graze on grass, clover and other field greens. In cold weather months, organic-raised and other premium animals are fed silage, a mixture of cut and fermented legumes, to supplement the lack of pasture grass. Other cattle are fed lesser mixtures of feed year-round. Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or B.S.E.) has been traced to an infectious protein in cow feed that contained meat and bone meal from infected cattle. Now, the U.S. and Canada ban the use of cattle tissues in feed intended for cattle.

These are high quality products, often with limited distribution, that are locally and regionally produced (including imported foods and beverages and ethnic foods). They are generally made in small quantities, often using artisanal techniques; and are often natural.

There is no government definition, but a superfood is a natural food source that is highly concentrated with a complex supply of quality nutrients. Bee pollen is the most famous superfoods, incredibly dense with thousands of phytonutrients (plant nutrients) including enzymes, bioflavonoids, phytosterols and carotenoids, free amino acids, Omega 3 essential fatty acids, naturally chelated minerals and whole vitamin complexes. The açaí berry is considered a superfood because of its extremely high level of anthocyanins (an antioxidant), vitamins A and C and omega 6 and 9 essential fatty acids, fiber and amino acids. Others include blueberries, dark chocolate, goji berries, green tea, pomegranate, soy and yumberry. According to a 2007 report from Datamonitor, “Superfood & Drinks: Consumer Attitudes to Nutrient Rich Products,” the superfood food and beverage market is expected to double by 2011 as consumers are paying more attention to diet and nutrition and increasingly seeking food and drinks with additional health-promoting benefits.

Pomegranates are superfruits. Photo by Kelly Cline | IST.

When a company practices sustainable manufacturing or agriculture, it chooses environmentally and socially responsible production. It purchases ingredients that are Fair Trade Certified and dolphin safe, e.g., and throughout its production, it preserves natural resources by choosing natural, recycled and bio-degradable products, bio-friendly cleaners, solar power where possible. Sustainable products have a social improvement component, e.g. replenishing the land. Sustainable farming encourages future generations of farmers and preserves rural communities. Often food is grown without manmade chemicals, or with minimal use of them. There is no official certification, but some farmer-verified programs like Certified Naturally Grown are springing up. See also our Eco Glossary (Green Glossary).

  Certified Naturally Grown Logo
One of the programs that verify sustainably-grown produce.

Varieties that are not overfished or whose fishing or farming does not cause damage to the environment. Learn more at Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterey Aquarium in California.

The United States Department of Agriculture.  The USDA passes regulation and supervises all products labeled “organic.” The USDA has three categories for organic products: 100% Organic Organic, and Made With Organic Ingredients. There are no regulations for products labeled “natural.” See organic.

Atlantic cod from U.S. and Canadian waters is dangerously depleted. The sustainable version is Atlantic cod from Iceland and the Northeast Arctic, or Pacific cod. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Vegan products do not contain any animal-based ingredients: no dairy products, eggs, honey, meat or seafood. See Vegetarian, below.

Vegetarians don’t eat meat or other animal products. different degrees of vegetarianism. The vegan is a total vegetarian who will eat only foods from plants: fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes (dried beans and peas), nuts and seeds. They will not eat any animal by-products, including honey, lard, gelatin or cochineal, a food coloring. Lactovegetarians eat plant foods plus cheese and other dairy products, but exclude red meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Ovo-lactovegetarians (also called lacto-ovovegetarians) exclude all of those items except eggs. Semi-vegetarians do not eat red meat but will eat chicken and fish along with dairy products and eggs. (Source:

White willow is a large deciduous tree native to Europe, western and central Asia. Its bark yields an aspirin substitute that reduces pain and inflammation without some of the harsh side effects of aspirin.


A sweetener that is neither refined nor artificial. Examples include evaporated cane sugar, honey, maple syrup and raw sugar.

The bark of the white willow tree. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Yerba maté is a plant is grown mainly in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. The leaves are dried, powdered, and made into a tea which has been drunk since ancient times.  Yerba maté, also called simply maté, contains xanthines, which are alkaloids in the same family as caffeine and theobromine, the stimulants also found in coffee and cacao. Researchers have found that yerba maté does contain caffeine, but some people seem to tolerate it better than coffee or tea. As with coffee and tea, users benefit from focus and alertness but also can experience anxiety, jitters, and heart palpitations. Yerba maté has many nutrients including vitamin C, several B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese and zinc. For more information, read our review of Guayakí Maté.

Yerba maté leaves. Photo courtesy Guayaki Maté.

The yumberry is a high-antioxidant “superfruit,” a red tree fruit that has been growing in Asia for about 2,000 years. Its phytochemical is the free-radical-scavenging antioxidant, oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC). In China it is called yangmei, in Japanese, yamamomo. In English, the tree is variously called the yumberry, Chinese strawberry, Chinese bayberry, Japanese bayberry and red bayberry. From the outside, the yumberry looks like a lychee. But while the lychee’s thin exterior peels off to reveal a white fruit inside, the yumberry is a solid fruit with red-purple interior similar in color to pomegranate arils. In the U.S., it is currently available in juice form.

Yumberries. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.


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