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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Jargon is like a foreign language. Learn to speak so your audience understands.

alphabet tiles spell the word jargon surrounded by random tiles

What is jargon?

According to the dictionary, jargon is “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.

It is often referred to as “insider language” – something people inside a group understand but those outside the group do not.

In other words, jargon is like a foreign language. If you want to communicate effectively, use words your audience understands.

Let’s explore some commonly used jargon in the field of nutrition science and consider how we can be better understood.

Jargon is like a foreign language. Translate using simple explanations.

Food and its impact on our health is a high-interest topic. Articles and posts about nutrition are popular in both traditional and social media.

Words and phrases like bioavailability, nutrient-dense, and metabolism are commonly used. But are they understood?

Let’s explore the answers to several key nutrition questions and explain the jargon with simplified language.

Is the amount of nutrients listed on a food label the amount my body cells get after I eat it?

This question relates to the concept of bioavailability. This is an important concept nutrition scientists account for when determining the recommended intakes of nutrients to meet our needs.

Many factors influence whether the amount of nutrients present in a food is available to be used by our body’s cells. In essence, this is the bioavailability of that nutrient.

The essential mineral iron, for example, is more bioavailable when it comes from an animal source, otherwise known as heme iron. Additionally, particular forms of supplemental iron are more bioavailable or usable than others.

Iron is also more bioavailable when eaten with a source of ascorbic acid, a form of Vitamin C, which is abundant in many fruits and vegetables.

Iron is less bioavailable when consumed with certain foods and beverages including tea, coffee, soy products, and foods high in calcium.

Iron is more bioavailable when our bodies have an increased need, such as during pregnancy or following blood loss.

To answer our question: No, our bodies do not end up using 100% of the nutrients present in a particular food. Nutrients that are more bioavailable are more completely utilized and those that are less bioavailable are less completely utilized. Nutrient intake recommendations account for these differences in bioavailability.

What is a way to describe how nutritious a food is?

The answer to this question may include the jargon, nutrient-dense.

Food and nutrition professionals seek to describe how nutritious a food is without labeling the food as “good” or “bad.” Foods considered more nutritious contribute a variety of nutrients in amounts that help meet our recommended intakes in proportion to meeting our total need for energy.

Common phrases used include “empty-calorie” and “nutrient-dense” foods. These terms refer to how many nutrients are present in a typical portion of the food in comparison to the number of calories.

Foods considered “empty-calorie” foods are relatively low in nutritional value compared to the number of calories. Examples include soft drinks and candy. They provide energy but few other nutrients. Another term for these foods is “calorie-dense.” A more negative term is “junk food.”

To promote a healthy relationship with food and eating, we strive to avoid using these negative terms and emphasize that all foods can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet, one which includes plenty of nutrient-dense foods.

A “nutrient-dense” food is one with a significant amount of nutrients for the number of calories. The word density conjures images of something being concentrated or highly packed. When a food is nutrient dense the nutritional value is high.

To answer our question: The nutritional value of foods can be thought of as a continuum from completely empty calorie to extremely nutrient dense. When we eat more nutrient-dense foods and fewer empty-calorie foods, we meet our nutrient needs without exceeding our calorie needs.

How do our bodies get energy from food?

To answer this question, we need a basic understanding of metabolism. This is the term used for the series of chemical reactions that take place in our body cells for converting the energy from the food we eat into the energy our cells can use.

Energy in food comes from carbohydrates, fats, and protein. The pathway for converting each one into usable energy is different. The energy our body cells use is known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

To answer our question: Our bodies get energy from food through metabolism, which consists of complex pathways of chemical reactions our body cells use to convert food energy into usable energy.

Don’t miscommunicate: Learn to speak so your audience understands.

Jargon is one of the ways our communication is “Miss Aligned,” also known as speaking in a different language, even if it is all English. Learn more about Miss Aligned, one of our Miss Communication contestants.

“You must learn to talk clearly. The jargon of scientific terminology which rolls off your tongues is mental garbage.” ~ Martin H. Fischer

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