Understanding Nutritional Jargon

By Indra Balaratnam, President, Malaysia Dietetics Association

Nutrition is the scientific study of nutrients, chemicals that are necessary for proper body functioning, and how to body uses them. It is a dynamic science, as the complex relationship between diet and good health is constantly evolving.

With new terms in nutrition being created all the time, it is easy to get confused and deluded into buying something that may not be suitable for us. In professional practice, nutrition refers to evidence-based practices that may differ from traditional nutritional practices.

Nutritional needs change throughout one’s lifespan. Technically speaking, ageing is not a disease, but many chronic ailments that are associated with natural ageing can be delayed, managed or even prevented.

Nutrition can be derived from various sources:

Whole foods: foods with naturally-occurring nutrients

Enriched foods: foods with added nutrients to replace those lost during food processing. One example is the loss of Vitamin B when wheat is made into white bread.

Fortified foods: nutrients that are added that were not there originally, such as Vitamin D that is added to milk to help calcium absorption.

On top of that, there are also various nutritional terms that would be useful to know to better understand their usage and function for our bodies:


Source: Cooking oil, deep sea fish, plant sources, walnut, whole grains, fruits and vegetables

Essential fatty acids consists of two categories: Omega-3 alpha linolenic acid which comprises docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and Omega-6 linolenic acid which is arachidonic acid (AA). They are not available in the body naturally and must be derived from the diet.

EPA, DHA and AA is turned into compounds with hormone-like functions that are components in cell membranes, nervous system and blood vessels. DHA and AA are found abundantly in the retina and brain. AA helps regulate growth and development, blood pressure levels, blood clotting and the activation of the immune system.

Deficiencies would result in scaly skin, hair loss and poor wound healing. Essential fatty acids are especially important for infants who need it for cognitive and visual development.


Source: Fruits, vegetables and wholegrain

These nutrient-dense compounds that give plant parts their unique colour and flavour reduces the damage from free radicals and helps prevent heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, lung disease, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, degenerative eye disease and other age-related diseases.


Source: Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, eggs, lettuce

These essential nutrients are actually a kind of caretenoid, a strong antioxidant. Research in the recent years shows that lutein and zeaxanthin can help improve sight and prevent blindness and other eye problems.


Source: Wheat, soybeans, honey, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas

Prebiotics are a non-digestible food ingredient (a type of fibre) that stimulates the growth or activity of the beneficial bacteria  in the colon. Think of it as food for the probiotics. Prebiotics is often added into baby formula or foods for people with eating problems (tube-feeding) to increase the concentration of bifidobacteria and reduce harmful gut bacteria. The most commonly used prebiotic is oligofructose, which is derived from chicory root. This sweet-tasting ingredient is sometimes used to replace sugar as it does not increase blood glucose serum. Oligofructose is reported to be stimulate the immune system, relieve constipation and aid absorption of Vitamin B.


Source: Yoghurt, fortified milk, cereal and oats

Probiotics are the good bacteria that helps improve gut immunity, nutrient absorption and reduce gastrointestinal problems such as bloating, diarrheoa and constipation.


SourceOrgan meats, fish, poultry, legumes

This is a component in molecules that the body uses to make DNA and RNA. Nucleotides are important for all aspects of cellular function, hence a deficiency will result in poor cellular activity, affecting growth and tissue development. As these are not easily consumed in sufficient amounts among children, nucleotides are sometimes included into fortified milk


Newborn: 560 calories

2 years: 910 calories

4—6 years: 1290 calories

7-9 years: 1590 calories

12-18 years: 1990-2180 calories

19-29 years: 2000 calories

Pregnancy: 2360-2470 calories

30-59 years: 2180 calories

65 years and above: 1780 calories

Source: Recommended Nutrient Intakes (2005),Ministry Of Health

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