Healing Foods Pyramid Glossary


Antibiotics are drugs that were developed to kill or injure bacteria. Antibiotics are used in animal feed to keep disease from spreading in cramped feedlots and barns. Continuous antibiotic use is a public health concern because it creates the opportunity for bacteria to mutate resulting in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. Not only are the resistant bacteria harmful to human health but also, antibiotics used in animal feed are excreted in animal feces and are harmful to the ecosystem.


The most well known phytochemicals are the antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, protect cells from damage caused by metabolic by-products (free radicals), as well as toxic substances from food and the environment. Free radicals are unstable particles that become destructive in the body when they react with oxygen and damage important cellular components such as DNA, or cell membranes. During these reactions free radicals may damage cells, which can lead to cellular dysfunction and disease. Scientists believe that damage from free radicals contributes to aging, brain dysfunction, inflammation and chronic diseases such as cancer and atherosclerosis. The body's natural defense against free radicals is antioxidants, which are found primarily in plant foods.


Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics found in water bottles and food storage containers. BPA is known to disrupt the endocrine system in the human body and may contribute to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, prostate gland, cardiovascular disease, hormone sensitive cancers such as breast and prostate, and immune system dysfunction. Harmful exposure levels are not known at this time and are currently being researched. The amount of BPA that leeches into food and drink varies depending on the age of the container, the temperature of the food/drink, and the type of container. For more information visit: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/media/questions/sya-bpa.cfm.


Caffeine is an addictive stimulant that may negatively impact health by contributing to headaches, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, digestive and urinary tract disorders. Caffeine has a diuretic effect, causing the body to lose water. It also increases stomach acid, so avoiding it may be beneficial to people with digestive concerns. Even modest amounts of caffeine may increase symptoms of hypoglycemia; therefore people with blood sugar concerns may consider avoiding caffeine. Research shows that avoidance of caffeine reduces symptoms of fibrocystic breasts in some women.


Pyramid™ In conventional industry practice laying hens are raised in battery cages. Cage-free hens are usually raised in a large barn or warehouse and are free to walk, spread their wings, and engage in more of their natural behaviors. Cage-free hens are not necessarily organically fed, or free range. The best way to ensure you are buying high quality eggs is to buy from local farmers and ask questions, or if the opportunity presents itself, visit the farm in person.


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and must be obtained through the diet. Calcium is required for bone formation and repair, cellular functioning, muscle contractions and many other essential bodily functions. There are a variety of dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium.




Calcium Content

Serving Size

Percent Daily Value

(based on 1,000mg)


Plain Yogurt (non-fat) 452 8 oz. 45%
Ricotta Cheese (part skim) 335 1/2 cup 34%
Skim Milk 306 1 cup 31%
Mozzarella Cheese (part skim) 311 1.5 oz. 31%


Collard Greens(cooked) 178 1/2 cup 18%
Spinach (cooked) 146 1/2 cup 15%
Tofu (prepared with nigari) 253 1/2 cup 25%
Soy Milk (fortified) 368 1 cup 37%
Molasses 172 1 tbsp 17%
Salmon (canned with bone) 181 3 oz. 18%
Sardines (in oil) 325 3 oz. 33%



Electrolyte balance is necessary for normal healthy bodily functioning. The four main electrolytes that are frequently measured in the blood are sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate. The body usually maintains an appropriate electrolyte balance in the blood with a proper diet and hydration. Electrolyte balance can be compromised with dehydration of any kind.

Fair Trade

Fair trade certification ensures that farmers and farm workers receive a fair price for their goods, living wages, and a variety of opportunities for business and social development. Certification guarantees that sustainable farming practices are utilized to protect the workers health and the integrity of the farm. Fair trade certification can be awarded by one of 19 labeling organizations that are affiliates of the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLOI).


Dietary fat is an essential part of a balanced diet. Fat is a component of all cell membranes, hormones, and neurons. It is vital for energy storage, protection of organs, and body temperature regulation. On a 2, 000 calorie diet, about 30% of total calories should come from total fat per day. A ratio of 1:2:1 of saturated: monounsaturated: polyunsaturated (such as omega-3s) fat is recommended.


Dietary fibers are the edible parts of plants that are resistant to digestion and absorption in the human intestine. Some fiber is partially fermented by bacteria in the intestine, some passes through the body virtually unchanged. Dietary fibers have beneficial physiological effects on bowel health, blood cholesterol and blood sugar stabilization.

There are two types of dietary fiber:

Soluble: Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that dissolves in water. It forms a gel like substance in the intestines that helps bind and remove cholesterol from the system, and can contribute to the prevention of heart disease.

Insoluble: Insoluble fiber is the type of fiber that does not dissolve in water and passes through the intestinal tract relatively unchanged. Insoluble fiber is thought to decrease the risk of digestive diseases and increase satiety by slowing the rate at which the stomach empties.

The standard American diet contains around 12 grams of fiber per day however, the current adult recommendation for fiber is 25 grams per day. In the future the recommendation may be increased to 35-40 grams per day. Fiber intake should be increased slowly over time with a simultaneous increase in water consumption.


Free range generally applies to meat and poultry products. To be certified free-range by the USDA, producers must demonstrate that the animal has been allowed access to the outside. However, these animals are not required to go outside which makes this label easy to abuse. Depending on their diet and movement ability, eggs produced by free-range chickens may contain more omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E than conventional eggs.

Gluten Intolerance

Celiac disease (CD) is also known as gluten intolerance. Gluten is the common name for the proteins in specific cereal grains that are not tolerated in persons with CD. These proteins are found in all forms of wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn, and faro), and related grains, rye, barley, and tritcale. When individuals with CD ingest gluten, the villi, tiny hair-like projections in the small intestine that absorb nutrients from food are damaged. This is due to an immune reaction to gluten. Damaged villi interfere with the body's ability to absorb basic nutrients - proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and, in some cases, water and bile salts. Once an individual with CD removes gluten from their diet, their intestines can often regain the ability to function normally.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index measures how different types of carbohydrate foods affect blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. The higher a food ranks on the glycemic index, the faster it increases glucose in the blood. Eating more than the recommended servings of foods high on the glycemic index can lead to loss of sensitivity to insulin, the hormone needed to allow blood sugar to enter cells for use as fuel. This "insulin resistance" promotes weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

What is the glycemic load (GL)?


To be certified grass-fed by the USDA, grass and forage must be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Routine mineral and vitamin supplementation may also be included in the feeding regimen. The producer must fully document the supplementation that occurs, including the amount, the frequency, and the supplements provided. Conventionally raised ruminant animals are fed corn and soy, which their bodies are ill equipped to digest. Ruminant animals naturally eat grass; therefore, grass-fed animals are generally healthier and their meat has a better nutrient profile including higher omega-3 content.


Hormones are chemical messengers that naturally occur in the bodies of all animals. These chemicals are released into the blood by organs and affect different parts of the body. Hormones control bodily processes such as sleep, growth, development, mood, and reproductive functions.

Hormones are primarily used in the meat and dairy industries to make animals gain weight and increase milk production. Some individuals are concerned that hormones remaining in milk and meat products after processing have negative health effects in humans, such as weight gain, hormone sensitive cancers, and early puberty in girls. Several studies have investigated the effects of exposure to these food products but findings are inconclusive. Although researchers are still determining the risks associated with exposure to hormones in food, we recommend choosing animal products that come from hormone-free livestock.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)

Monounsaturated fatty acids are fats that have one carbon-to-carbon double bond and are normally liquid at room temperature. They are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and are beneficial for health when consumed in moderation. Examples of food sources of monounsaturated fats are almonds, avocados, and olive oil.


Organic foods contain less pesticide residue than their conventional counterparts. Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers, bio-engineering, or ionizing radiation. Organic systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, eliminate the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture.

Organic certification by the USDA requires that farmers familiarize themselves with the regulations, and keep detailed records of their farming practices and plans for the season. Farmers are also required to apply for certification and pay a fee for their farm to be inspected. These steps each have the potential to become barriers to certification for some individuals, especially smaller scale independent farmers. Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is a label that is independent of the USDA but follows the USDA organic regulations. CNG is a nonprofit dedicated to providing organic labeling that is accessible to small farms that use organic practices. There are several other non-profit certification bodies run by growing associations and farmers throughout the country. It is best to research these labels whenever possible and buy local foods from farmers market when it is available. You can find more information on organic labeling at the Organic Consumers Association webpage.


Pesticides are chemicals that are used to control pests that destroy crops. They are used in the production of most food crops sold in the United States. These chemicals are thought to have negative effects on the health of farm workers, the consumer, and the environment. Pesticides may increase an individual's risk for cancer or other chronic diseases and should be limited in the diet.


Phytochemicals ('phyto'means plant) are naturally occurring chemicals found in all plant foods. Phytochemicals' role in nutrition is still unfolding; however, they have been identified as containing properties that aid in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cataracts. In the human body, some phytochemicals act as antioxidants, some protect and regenerate essential nutrients, while others work to deactivate cancer-causing substances. There are over 4,000 phytochemicals that have been identified and the majority of those require further research for scientists to understand their effects on human health. Some examples of phytochemicals that have been found to have beneficial effects on human health are:

Type of Phytochemicals


Proposed Action

Food Sources


Isoflavones Mimic estrogen in the body, may be beneficial for hormone sensitive cancers such as breast and prostate. Whole soy foods, alfalfa, peas
Anthocyanins Research suggests anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as well as protect against coronary heart disease. Cherries, red grapes, red cabbage
Flavonols Research has found that flavonols have anti-inflammatory properties, contribute to cardiovascular health, and decrease platelet stickiness. Cocoa, red wine, green tea


Lycopene Has been found to have antioxidant properties and protect against some cancers. Cooked tomatoes, grapefruits, watermelon
Zeazanthin Protective against age related macular degeneration, heart disease and some cancers. Egg yolk, kale, turnip greens
Lutein Protective against age related macular degeneration, heart disease and some cancers. Egg yolk, kale, spinach
βCarotene Found to have antioxidant properties. Essential for eye functioning and health and may have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. Sweet potatoes, apricots, carrots


Allyl Sulfur Found to have anticancer properties; also beneficial for heart disease and blood clot prevention. Garlic, onions, leeks
Indoles Found to have antioxidant effects and may protect against some cancers. Cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA)

Polyunsaturated fats are fatty acids with more than one carbon-to-carbon double bond in their molecular structure and are liquid at room temperature. PUFAs can be found in fatty fish, vegetable oils, nuts, and olives. Two of the most nutritionally significant PUFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) that have the first double bond at the third carbon in the molecule. They are an essential component of the human diet because the body cannot synthesize omega-3s. These fats are necessary for proper brain growth and development. Three types of omega-3s are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). DHA and EPA both are abundant in deep-water fatty fish such as wild salmon and sardines. ALA is found in some plant foods such as flax seeds and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects in the body have been found to be helpful in the prevention and treatment of numerous conditions including depression, heart disease, and cancer.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) that has the first double bond at the sixth carbon in their molecular structure. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential in the diet because they cannot be made by the human body. Linoleic acid (LA) is the most abundant omega-6 fatty acid in the Western diet; it is found in seed oils such as canola, rapeseed, and cottonseed. LA is a common ingredient in processed and fried foods and therefore is generally consumed in large amounts in many developed countries.

Why is your PUFA ratio important?
The PUFA ratio is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids consumed in the diet. Research has found that human ancestors consumed a diet that consisted of a 1:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Currently the average Western diet has been found to contain a 20:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s. Diets that are unbalanced, such as the typical Western diet, have been found to be pro-inflammatory; it is thought that this lack of balance, and the resulting inflammation, is a major contributor to the growing number of chronic diseases. Health benefits from a low omega-6:omega-3 ratio are numerous. Research has found positive effects on asthma at 5:1; positive cardiovascular effects at a ratio of 4:1; positive effects on rectal cancer at 2.5:1, and positive effects on arthritis at 2-3:1. An ideal ratio has yet to be determined and may vary based on the individual and disease state. It is clear that a lower ratio is protective against many chronic diseases.


Probiotic foods are those which contain live organisms that are capable of colonizing the intestine. These organisms promote health by stimulating the immune system, discouraging the growth of harmful intestinal bacteria, neutralizing dietary carcinogens, treating diarrhea, and reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are industrial pollutants that find their way into fresh waters and oceans where they are absorbed by fish. The main dietary sources of PCBs are fish (especially fish caught in contaminated lakes or rivers), meat, and dairy products. Although PCBs are no longer legally in use in the United States, they remain in the environment for decades and can also be released from transformers, fluorescent lights, and refrigerators made before 1977.


Antioxidant Activities of Flavonoids
Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University
Accessed September 1, 2009

American Dietetic Association
Accessed September 1, 2009

Beta Carotene
National Institute of Health
Accessed September 1, 2009

Dietary Fiber: Essential Part of a Healthy Diet
Mayo Clinic
Accessed September 1, 2009

Egg Carton Labels
The Humane Society of the United States
November 15, 2009

Medicine Net
Accessed September 1, 2009

Functional Foods Fact Sheet
Food Insight
Accessed September 1, 2009

Lycopene an Antioxidant for Good Health
American Dietetic Association
Accessed September 1, 2009

Pesticides Health and Safety
Environmental Protection Agency
Accessed September 1, 2009

Polychlorinated Biphenyls
Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry
Accessed September 1, 2009

National Institutes of Health
Accessed September 1, 2009

The Definition of Dietary Fiber
American Academy of Cereal Chemists
Accessed September 1, 2009

Vitamin E
National Institutes of Health
Accessed September 1, 2009

What is Fair Trade?
Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International
September 1, 2009

Original Research and Review Articles

Ariga T, Taiichiro, S. Antithrombotic and acticancer effects of garlic-derived sulfur compounds: A review. Biofactors. 2006; 26: 93-103.

Beattie J, et al. Potential health benefits of berries. Current Nutrition & Food Science. 2005; 1:71-86.

Grassi D, et al. Flavonoids, vascular function and cardiovascular protection. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2009; 15: 1072-1084.

Heaney RP. Absorbability and utility of calcium in mineral water. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006; 84: 371-374. 1990; 50: 656-657.

Higdon JV, et al. Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis. Pharmacological Research. 2007; 55: 224-236.

MacArtain P, et al. Nutritional value of edible seaweed. Nutrition Reviews. 2007; 65 (12): 535-543.

Moon YJ, et al. Dietary flavonoids: effects on xenobiotic and carcinogen metabolism. Toxicology in Vitro. 2006; 20: 187-210.

Ribaya-Mercado JD, Blumberg JB. Lutein and zeaxanthin and their potential roles in disease prevention. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004; 23(6): 567S-587S.

Ross SA, et al. Allyl Sulfur Compounds from Garlic Modulate Aberrant Crypt Formation. The Journal of Nutrition. 2006; 853S-854S.

Titchenal CA, Dobbs J. A system to assess the quality of food sources of calcium. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 2007; 20: 717-724.

The Healing Foods Pyramid™ was created by the Nutrition Education Team at the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine in 2005 and updated in 2009.