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Nutrition Definitions

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 found in milk and fruits.

Basic Food Groups

In the USDA food intake patterns, the basic food groups are grains; fruits; vegetables; milk, yogurt and cheese; and meat, poultry, fish, dried peas and beans, eggs and nuts. In the CACFP food intake pattern, the basic food groups are grains and breads; milk; meats and meat alternates; and fruits and vegetables.

Cardiovascular Disease

Refers to diseases of the heart and diseases of the blood vessels (arteries, capillaries, veins) within a person's entire body, such as the brain, legs and lungs.

Cheese Food

A processed cheese prepared by mixing one or more cheese ingredients with one or more dairy ingredients into a homogeneous plastic mass, which reduces the amount of cheese in the finished product. It must contain at least 51% of the cheese ingredient by weight, have a moisture content less than 44%, and contain at least 23% milkfat.

Cheese Product

A processed cheese that does not meet the maximum moisture content of 43% and/or the 47% minimum milkfat standards of processed cheese.


A sterol present in all animal tissues that when ingested by humans, turns into a soft, fatty, wax-like substance in the bloodstream. It is necessary in the production of cell membranes and some hormones, but too much cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease (which leads to heart attack) and for stroke. There is no evidence for a dietary requirement for cholesterol.

Chronic Diseases

Such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes—are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. These diseases account for seven of every ten deaths and affect the quality of life of 90 million Americans. Although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problems, they are also among the most preventable. Adopting healthy behaviors such as eating nutritious foods, being physically active and avoiding tobacco use can prevent or control the devastating effects of these diseases.

Combination Food

A single serving of a food item that contains two or more of the required meal components (e.g., pizza, chef salad).

Dietary Fiber

Typically refers to nondigestable carbohydrates from plant foods such as legumes (e.g., peas and beans), oats, barley, some fruits and fruit juices (e.g., prunes, plums and apples), some vegetables (e.g., broccoli, carrots and celery), nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Discretionary Calorie Allowance

The calories remaining in a person's energy allowance after he/she has consumed adequate calories from healthful foods, (i.e., foods in low-fat or no-added-sugar forms). These "left-over" calories can be "spent" on forms of foods that are not the most nutrient dense (e.g., whole milk rather than fat-free milk) or may be additions to foods (e.g., salad dressing, sugar, butter).

Heart Disease

A narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart (coronary arteries).

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs)

MUFAs are liquid at room temperature and are found in canola, olive and peanut oils. MUFAs lower total cholesterol, lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and also raise good cholesterol (HDL). These are healthy fats.

Nutrient-Dense Foods

Foods that provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals and relatively fewer calories.

Ounce Equivalent

In the grains food group, the amount of a food counted as equal to a one-ounce slice of bread; in the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts food group, the amount of food counted as equal to one ounce of cooked meat, poultry or fish.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)

Usually liquid at room temperature. Safflower, sunflower, corn and soybean oils contain the highest amounts of PUFAs. PUFAs lower total cholesterol in the blood and lower the bad cholesterol. However, they also lower the good cholesterol. Overall, they are healthy fats.

Portion Size

The amount of a food consumed in one eating occasion; can consist of multiple servings.

Processed Cheese

Food prepared by mixing one or more cheeses, with the aid of heat, for manufacturing with an emulsifying agent. The cheese is then poured into molds to solidify into a homogeneous plastic mass and is later packaged. The final product can have a maximum moisture content of 43% and must have at least 47% milkfat.

Processed Meat

A meat product containing at least 30% meat, where the meat has undergone processing other than boning, slicing, dicing, mincing or freezing, either as a single meat or in combination with other ingredients or additives. Processed meats have been cured, smoked, dried, canned, dehydrated and/or combined with chemicals and/or enzymes. Examples include sausage, bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, bologna, salami, pepperoni, etc.

Saturated Fats

Solid at room temperature like butter, stick margarine, shortening and the fat in cheese and meat. Some vegetable oils (e.g., coconut and palm oil) contain mostly saturated fats. These are unhealthy fats that raise cholesterol in the blood, so use them sparingly, if at all.

Serving Size

A standardized amount of a food, such as a cup or an ounce, used in providing dietary guidance or in making comparisons among similar foods.

Sweet Grain

A grain food that customarily contains a significant proportion of calories from sugar. Includes: donuts, Danishes, cakes, cupcakes, pies, cookies, brownies, toaster pastries, commercially-prepared muffins/quick breads, sweet rolls, granola bars and grain fruit bars.

Trans Fats

Found naturally in some foods but mainly come from partially hydrogenated fats in commercially-prepared baked goods like crackers and cookies. Trans fats raise cholesterol in the blood just like saturated fat does, so try to limit or avoid them entirely. They are unhealthy fats.

Whole Grains

Foods made from the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel, which consists of the bran, germ and endosperm. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed or flaked, it must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as the original grain in order to be called whole grain.