Common Terms


A substance that is not normally consumed as a food in itself or used as an ingredient of a food, but is intentionally added to achieve a specific technological function. On food labels additions are usually referred to by a code number in the product ingredients list.


A substance that causes an allergic reaction in some people, for example peanuts or lactose.

Amino acids

Small building blocks that make up proteins. There are about 20 common amino acids, which in different combinations make up all the proteins found in plants and animals. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be built from scratch but must be obtained from food. They can then be arranged into protein as is, or chemically altered to make other amino acids before use.


Substances that prevent oxidative damage to cells linked to degenerative diseases and ageing, by deactivating single oxygen molecules (also called free radicals) in the body. Found in a wide range of foods, especially grains, fruits and vegetables. The term may also refer to a synthetic substance that reduces the rate at which fat or oil in food oxidises and becomes rancid, preserving the food and preventing stale flavours developing.


Clogging of the arteries caused by accumulations of fatty subtances (particularly cholesteol) and tissue. One of the consequences can be myocardial infarction (heart attack) caused by formation of a blood clot.


Composed of sugar molecules made up of carbon with hydrogen and oxygen, carbohydrates and are classified based on their structure. The primary role of carbohydrates is to supply the body's cells with glucose, which is the base unit of carbohydrates and an important energy source.


Yellow-orange pigment found in cereals and vegetable, convertible to vitamin A.


A substance that plays an essential part in some reactions catalysed by enzymes.


Change the properties of protein, usually by heating it, which also inactivates enzymes.

Dietary fibre

An edible substance that is able to avoid absorption into the small intestine and thus reach the large intestine. This is because it includes polysaccharides that are a little like starch, except that the sugar units are linked by bonds that our body's digestive enzymes cannot digest. Wholemeal and grain breads are the best source. Bakery products made from refined flour contain little dietary fibre. The recommended intake of dietary fibre is 30 g a day.


Created when two monosaccharides are joined together. For example, sucrose (table sugar) is composed of glucose and fructose.


Chemicals in the body fluids that result from the breakdown of salts, including sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride. The kidneys control the amount of electrolytes in the body.


Scientifically, it is the ability to do work, measured in joules. Energy can be transformed between electrical energy, mechanical energy, light and heat. Energy is required by the body and is produced when digested food undergoes chemical changes.


A biological catalyst (proteins) capable of speeding up chemical reactions without being destroyed itself. Many different ingredients contain enzymes.


The term used to describe fats and oils in the diet. Triglycerides are the predominant component of fats and oils, consisting of one unit of glycerol and three fatty acids. A fatty acid is a chain of carbon atoms with a methyl group at one end and an acid group at the other. Attached to the carbon chains are hydrogen atoms. The number of hydrogen atoms surrounding the carbon atoms determines the classification of the fat.

Saturated fats

When all the hydrogen atoms present in the fatty acid surround the carbon atoms. This term is sometimes abbreviated to SAFAs.

Monounsaturated fats

If some of the hydrogen atoms are missing from around the carbon atoms and double bonds (a chemical bond) have formed between the carbon atoms. When one double bond is present then this fat is classified as monounsaturated. This term is sometimes abbreviated to MUFAs.

Polyunsaturated fats

If more than one double bond is present. This term is sometimes abbreviated to PUFAs.

Omega 3/Omega 6

These are polyunsaturated fats and their names relate to the position of the double bond present. For example, in omega 3 the double bond is positioned between the third and fourth carbon in the chain.


Nutrients are sometimes added to foods to improve the nutrient quality of a food or improve the dietary intakes of particular individuals. Manufacturers often fortify foods to add value to a particular product to cover nutrient losses during production. To control which nutrients are added to foods, the Australian New Zealand Food Standard outlines which foods can be fortified and what nutrient can be added to each food. Also controlled is the amount of nutrient allowed to be added. Any nutrient added to a food must be included on the labeling of the product, as well as the amount present and the percentage of RDI that this amount makes up. People who have nutrient-related medical conditions need to be aware of any extra nutrients added as they may need to avoid certain foods.

Examples of fortified foods are breakfast cereals which have vitamins (often Vitamins B1, B2, and B3) and minerals (often iron, calcium) added.


A basic six-carbon sugar that forms a building block for other more complex sugars.


Food Standards Australia New Zealand, an independent statutory authority that develops standards for food composition, labelling and contaminants which apply to all food produced or imported for sale in Australia and New Zealand.


Collagenous protein extracted from animal bones, hooves and hides and used to thicken and bind fillings or other solutions into a gel-like substance.

Genetic engineering (GE)

The process of modifying plants or animals with genes from another species to obtain specific qualities.

HDL cholesterol

Transports cholesterol from the blood to the liver for removal from the body and is therefore called the 'good' cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol

Transports cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body in the blood and is considered the 'bad' cholesterol. If there is too much cholesterol in the blood then it is desposited in the walls of the coronary arteries.


Acts as a messenger molecule that carries instructions from its site of production through the bloodstream to other cells throughout the body. Hormones are secreted in response to altered conditions by a variety of glands in the body.

Kilojoules (calories)

The energy value of food used to be measured in calories, but is ow measured in kilojoules (kJ). Used to be calorie. One calorie (kilocalorie) equals 4.3 kJ . One gram of carbohydrate produces 16.52 kJ.


These are the simplest carbohydrate molecules as they are made up of one sugar unit, often calleda simple sugar. Common examples are fructose, glucose and galactose.

Nutrition information panel

A nutrition information panel lists ingredients in order of weight from the greatest amount to the smallest, per serve or 100g. Information on energy (kilojoules), protein, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar, sodium (salt) and any other nutrient about which a claim is made must be included, for example “contains added iron”.

Food additives are shown, usually represented by numbers which can be looked up in an additive code book. The origin of the food is also shown, such as the country or region from which it originates.


Food products produced without the use of synthetic chemicals or artificial fertilisers.


A process in which milk is quickly heated to high temperatures and then rapidly chilled to kill dangerous bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Pasteurised milk keeps longer than raw milk but is not sterile.


Substances found in dietary fibre which can interact with essential mineral nutrients and impair their absorption.


A large family of natural compounds widely distributed in plant foods. Examples are phenolic acids and flavonoids.


Polymer of several sugar molecules, e.g. starch.


Substance added to food to prevent or delay spoilage.


Complex molecules composed of as little as 20 and up to thousands of amino acids linked together in a chain. The order of the amino acids in any given protein chain affects the way the protein works. Protein is required in the body for numerous functions, most importantly building and repairing tissue.

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)

These values suggest the minimal amounts of nutrients that should be eaten each day to prevent nutrition-deficiency conditions and diseases.


Deterioration in the texture of food products caused by changes that occur after cooking or baking.