health

Popular health buzzwords decoded.

QLD Healthier. Happier.
Thanks to our brand partner, QLD Healthier. Happier.

Have you noticed that the concept of being ‘healthy’ seems a lot more complicated in 2016 than it once was?

This is partly due to evolving ideas about nutrition, but it also comes down to the fact we’re bombarded with health information these days. Constantly.

We’re reading and hearing a lot more about health, and it seems there are new fads, movements and buzzwords coming to the fore every minute. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, but not every new diet trend or “must have” grocery item is as miraculous and life changing as it sounds.

Unfortunately there isn’t a grown-ups’ version of Healthy Harold to talk us through the ins and outs of health buzzwords, but one place to get some straight shooting health advice is the Queensland Government Healthier. Happier. website. It is all about helping people make small and smart changes for overall better health. Because when our bodies and minds are healthy, we feel better, we look better, we have more energy and we’re able to get more out of life.

In the mean time, here’s a quick guide to help you get across some of the most popular health terms flying around right now.

Superfoods

Goji berries, acai, kale, blueberries – the ‘superfood’ label has successfully exalted a long list of ordinary grocery items into overpriced ‘must-haves’. However, ‘superfood’ is actually not a medical or scientific term.

Put down the goji berries... Image: iStock. 

It’s generally used to describe foods that contain high concentrated amounts of important nutrients, but while nutrients are vital to a healthy diet, this doesn’t mean you need to fill your trolley with chia seeds. The truth is, while eating a ‘superfood-exclusive diet’ might make you feel smug (while simultaneously eroding your bank account), many nutrition experts will happily tell you that eating a balanced diet comprising all of the food groups is an equally effective, if less Instagram-worthy, way to meet your nutritional needs.

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If you are feeling a bit lost with it all, Healthier. Happier. is a great place to find further information on the nutritional content of different fruit and veggies.

Probiotics

Anyone who’s seen a yoghurt commercial will be familiar with the word ‘probiotic’ - but not necessarily what it means. Probiotics are living microorganisms, or ‘live bacteria’, that occur naturally in foods like yoghurt and fermented veggies. When consumed in sufficient amounts, probiotics reach your gut in an active state and help keep your gut healthy.

Probiotics can also be formulated into foods and dietary supplements, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you should be stocking up. As gastroenterologist Dr Vincent Ho told Mamamia recently, there is currently no legal definition for the term ‘probiotic’ in Australia, and in order for commercial products to be classified as such they must satisfy a list of criteria. There are also a lot of unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of these formulated foods and supplements. For general health, it’s best to choose food sources of probiotics and not rely on supplements.

Calories/Kilojoules 

Calories and kilojoules (kJ) are units that measure the amount of energy contained in food and drink. While they represent the same thing, these units are not equal; one calorie is equivalent to 4.184 kilojoules. Although calories were once the most common units, and are still used in the States, kilojoules are more widely accepted these days. In other words, these units are to food energy what kilometres and miles are to distance.

"In other words, these units are to food energy what kilometres and miles are to distance." Image via iStock.

The number of kilojoules (or calories) we should each aim to eat each day isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation; factors like height, weight, age and physical activity levels need to be taken into account. This is something best discussed with your doctor, however, the Queensland Health Healthier. Happier. website has a useful calculator that’ll give you a rough estimate of your daily kilojoule (kJ) requirements.

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Antioxidants

Admit it: you’ve justified a glass of red over dinner by arguing that it’s “full of antioxidants” without necessarily knowing what that means. Ahem.

Well, antioxidants are compounds that are found in certain foods (particularly fruits and veggies). They have the ability to counteract and neutralise unstable molecules called ‘free radicals’ - these occur through oxidation processes, like digestion and breathing, and can damage DNA and cells as they travel through the body. This can contribute to health conditions like heart disease, arthritis, vision loss, and certain cancers.

red wine

Admit it: you’ve justified a glass of red over dinner by arguing that it’s “full of antioxidants” without necessarily knowing what that means. Image via iStock.

There are plenty of claims about the ‘disease-fighting’ powers of antioxidants - whether in food or supplement form - but it’s important to be aware that not all of them are backed up by solid evidence. Research into this area is ongoing.

Wholefood

Despite what its name would suggest, “wholefood” doesn’t refer to how much of a food you eat (i.e. no, you don’t need to consume an entire head of lettuce), but what’s happened to it before it landed in your shopping trolley.

Essentially, wholefoods are closest to their natural state because they’ve undergone little to no processing or refining - think fruit and veg, beans, wholegrains like brown rice, quinoa and oats, nuts, eggs, meat, and seafood that doesn’t come in a can. If something is in the ‘fresh’ section of the supermarket, it probably satisfies the criteria.

By eating wholefoods, you’re getting the original nutritional value of that food (or most of it) and avoiding salts, sugars and other additives and preservatives.

What health terms do you find confusing?