Common Diet Buzzwords Demystified

Organic aisle in grocery store
Keith Brofsky / Getty Images

Confession: We sometimes miss simpler times when the diet world felt less complicated. These days, there are so many buzzwords everywhere: on product packages, in magazines, and all over the web. But what the heck do they really mean?

BMI

BMI stands for body mass index. It's a measure of your body fat based on weight in relation to height. BMI is often used to determine if one is overweight or underweight.

However, healthy bodies come in all different sizes, and many experts agree that BMI isn't the end all be all determinant when it comes to health. If you’re curious, calculate your BMI here.

Cleanse/Detox

These terms are somewhat vague. Usually, they refer to eliminating toxins and other so-called harmful elements from your system. They're often associated with drastic measures, like all-juice diets or mostly drinking lemon water spiked with cayenne pepper (extreme!).

You may experience weight loss with these, but it’s most likely not going to be permanent. Many medical professionals say that cleanses and detoxes are unnecessary because detoxification is a natural function that our bodies do on their own.

Gluten

This wheat protein has certainly been vilified over the last few years. Like its name suggests, gluten acts as a glue to maintain a food's shape. Many people have gone gluten-free, however, only a small percentage of the population has a gluten intolerance or celiac disease (a serious disorder where ingesting gluten destroys the small intestines).

If you're simply looking to lose weight, you're better off eliminating highly processed refined grains like white bread, bagels, and pasta. Many whole grains do contain gluten, but those could actually help weight-loss efforts. And be warned: gluten-free junk food is still junk food.

GMO

GMO is short for genetically modified organisms.

Foods that contain GMOs have had their DNA altered and changed through genetic engineering.

GMOs are most often found in packaged goods. In 2016, President Obama signed a bill requiring the labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients. Just keep this in mind: A product labeled non-GMO isn't inherently diet friendly. Check those nutritional panels!

Macros

Short for macronutrients, macros are the main nutrients our bodies need. Those who follow a macro-based diet focus on the big three: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Macro dieters aim for a certain percentage of each macronutrient.

Natural

Heads up: This buzzword is completely unregulated. It usually implies that a food doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, or other synthetic substances. Just like many other buzzwords on this list, natural doesn't mean a food is automatically smart for weight loss. Don't worry: we’ve got a few natural snacks that you can feel good about eating!

Organic

The USDA determines which products receive an organic seal. This indicates that the product is produced in a particular way: sans the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and other not-so-favorable chemicals.

Different foods have different requirements to be labeled as organic.

For example, for beef to be organic, the cows must have access to pastures, be fed certified organic feed, and not be given any antibiotics and hormones.

Take note: Seeing the word “organic” on a label does not imply that it is low in calories.

Paleo

This diet has become super popular in the past few years. It gets its name from “Paleolithic,” the time period this diet wants to emulate. It’s basically eating like the Flintstones!

What’s A-OK? Grass-fed meat, fish, seafood, veggies, fruits, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils. What’s not? Cereal grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt, and refined oil.

Here’s my complete breakdown of the Paleo trend.

Probiotic

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your gut health. You can find them in pill form and in certain foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. How about some Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast tomorrow?

Superfoods

While this is mostly a marketing term (there are no regulations), it applies to foods that boast significant nutritional benefits, e.g. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other high-quality nutrients. Think berries (a great snack if you're always hungry), leafy greens, and omega-3 rich foods like salmon. 

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