Glossary Page 1: Overview & Organic Terms Beginning With A
Plus Natural Food, Health & Wellness Terms
Here are definitions of terms that pertain to organic food types and natural foods. More and more people, including those who don’t observe strictly organic or natural diets, are choosing organic products based on environmental, humane and health concerns. But before choosing a package that you think supports your belief, be sure that you understand what the label means. We are confronted with dozens of terms, logos and sanctioning organizations.
Some terms are strictly regulated by law, but most are rather loose. Some terms are deliberately complicated or misleading. For example, some huge producers of chicken label their products “all natural” because they don’t contain artificial coloring or hormones, when these ingredients have never been used in the poultry industry. It’s like labeling olive oil “cholesterol-free” and “carb-free,” when no vegetable oil has ever contained cholesterol or carbs. And huge producers of chicken are infamous for the inhumane treatment of their birds.
If you feel strongly about something, do your research to make sure that a product is as natural or as ethical as you believe. We’ve tried to do our research and present you with the best information we can.
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The açaí berry (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) from the Brazilian rainforest has been trumpeted as the next important food, a true superfruit. It may in fact be one of the most nutritious fruits on the planet: Açaí’s antioxidants are significantly higher than green tea, chocolate or blueberries and 10 times higher than red grapes. It has 10 to 30 times more anthocyanins (flavonoids that bind free radicals) than red wine. Açaí also has a synergy of omega 6 and 9 essential fatty acids (healthy fats), fiber, amino acids and vitamins A and C.
Açaí berries. Photo by Ronaldo Salame | SXC.
However, açaí is not one of the most palatable fruits. The plain berries are very tart; like eating plain cranberries, very few people enjoy them straight. Brazilians drink açaí in sweetened juices, which are now in U.S. supermarkets in a variety of blends with more familiar fruits (banana, raspberry, etc.). See also superfruit.
The acerola is a small tree is small also known as Barbados cherry or West-Indian cherry. It’s small, red fruit is sweet-tart, a cross between a berry and a lime. It is an excellent source of vitamin C. The juice is drunk for breakfast in Brazil and some Caribbean countries the way orange juice is drunk in the U.S. It is also mixed with other juices (mango-acerola is a popular blend), and used to flavor candies, gelatin, ice cream, jellies and jams, soft drinks and yogurt. It is also available as a nutritional supplement.
Acerola, a Brazilian-Caribbean fruit high in vitamin C. Photo by Alfonso Lima | SXC.
ADDED SUGARS Sugars and syrups that are added to foods during processing or preparation. Added sugars do not include naturally occurring sugars such as those that occur in milk and fruits. While the amount of natural sugars may be insignificant, it is why the term “sugar free,” previously seen on many foods, was changed to “no sugar added.”
ALPHA-LINOLENIC ACID (ALA)
Alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, is found in many vegetable oils, with good concentrations in canola (rapeseed), flaxseed, hemp, soybean and walnut. It is also found in chia, kiwi, lingonberry, purslane, sea buckthorn (seaberry) and shiso (perilla). Most seeds and seed oils are much richer in an omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid. It is the alpha-linolenic acid that has enabled olive oil producers to claim heart-healthy benefits: Two tablespoons per day have been shown in clinical studies to have a beneficial effect in reducing coronary disease. Also see essential fatty acids.
Walnuts are perhaps the best nuts to eat because of their concentration of ALA. Photo by J. Eltovski | Morguefile.
ANTIBIOTIC-FREE PROTEIN Chicken, turkey, pork and lamb are produced without the routine use of antibiotics as a feed additive; cattle are not injected with antibiotics.
Antioxidants are chemical compounds that work to protect the body from cell damage by inhibiting oxidation, rendering free radicals harmless. Foods with high antioxidant levels have been shown in studies to have health benefits ranging from anti-aging to improved cardiovascular health. Antioxidants slow down, prevent and treat degenerative diseases and aging by scavenging free radicals—molecules with one or more unpaired electrons, which rapidly react with other molecules, starting chain reactions in the oxidation process. The antioxidant gives up one of its electrons to complete the unpaired electron in the free radical, thus neutralizing the ability of the free radical to cause cell damage. Free radicals are a normal product of metabolism and the body produces its own antioxidants to keep them in balance.
Wild blueberries are the highest-antioxidant food. Photo courtesy Blueberry Council.
However, stress, aging, and environmental sources such as polluted air and cigarette smoke can add to the number of free radicals in the body, creating an imbalance. The highly reactive free radicals can damage healthy DNA and have been linked to changes that accompany aging such as age-related macular degeneration, and with disease processes that lead to cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Polyphenols and flavanols are antioxidants found in chocolate. Catechins are flavanols found in tea. Nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium have been found to act as antioxidants. More about antioxidants.
There are no standards for “artisan” and unfortunately, it has been co-opted by big business. Large businesses de facto cannot make artisan products: they are labor-intensive, small-batch products handmade, often of the finest ingredients, by skilled craftspeople. Machines don’t make the cheese, chocolate, jam, etc.: People make it. Artisan businesses are family-owned; some, which grow large enough to be purchased by Big Business, may still make good products from good ingredients, but the special quality that comes from small-batch production and the love and attention that the artisan invests in the product is lost.
Artisan cheese is made by hand, not on a factory assembly line. Photo by Claire Freierman | THE NIBBLE.