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The A to Z of health terms

A group of people sit at a table with laptops while enjoying fresh fruit and orange juice

We've simplified some of the most common health terms

A group of people sit at a table with laptops while enjoying fresh fruit and orange juice

Whether it’s ‘BMI’ or ‘glucose’, chances are you’ve heard a few health buzzwords in your time; but, do you know what they really mean? To help simplify some of the most commonly used health terms, we’ve created an A to Z explanation of what they really mean.

Added sugars

Added sugars are sugars that don't occur naturally in foods – for example, cane sugar, corn syrup or dextrose. Added sugars can increase triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood, which may increase the risk of heart disease.


A relative measure of body fat, BMI stands for Body Mass Index. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres. Knowing your BMI helps your doctor assess your risk of developing disease, however is not always accurate, especially if a person is more muscular.

Calorie balance

Calorie balance refers to the number of calories consumed versus calories burned each day. If you're looking to lose or gain weight, you can try a free health app like MyFitnessPal to help you keep track of your calorie intake.

Dietary sodium

The bulk of dietary sodium comes from table salt. While sodium is an essential part of every diet, too much can increase your blood pressure. A healthy intake is considered to be 460 to 920 milligrams of sodium per day, or approximately 1.15 to 2.3 grams of salt.

Energy expenditure

Energy expenditure, also known as total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), is how much energy you burn daily measured in calories or kilojoules. Increasing your daily energy expenditure can help you stay fit and lose excess weight.


An important part of every diet, fat comes in two types: saturated and unsaturated. The difference is that saturated fats tend to raise bad cholesterol (LDL), while unsaturated fats can help to reduce LDL and the risk of heart disease.


Glucose is a simple sugar used by the body for energy and is found in foods such as fruit, starchy vegetables and grains. All carbohydrate foods such as bread, rice and pasta break down to glucose.


HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein (a substance that transfers fat molecules around the body). Also known as ‘the good cholesterol’, HDL helps to remove bad cholesterol (LDL) from the bloodstream. Foods high in unsaturated fat, such as olive oil and nuts, can help raise your HDL levels.


Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to enable your body to process carbohydrate foods; it helps to keep your blood sugar (glucose) levels from getting too high or low. Eating a diet rich in fibre, healthy protein and unsaturated fat can help keep your insulin levels stable.

Kilojoules (kJ)

Kilojoules is a unit of energy which measures the amount of energy people get from consuming food and drink. If we regularly consume more than we use, we put on weight. Food energy can also be measured in Calories (there are 4.186kJs in one Calorie).


LDL is short for low-density lipoprotein. Aka 'bad cholesterol' because it deposits plaque in the arteries, LDL is found in foods which contain high levels of saturated fat, such as butter and red meat.


Metabolism is the chemical process in your body that keeps it functioning. The rate in which your body converts food into energy is determined by your metabolism. Its speed varies by body type, gender, age and muscle. While you don't have much control over your metabolism, you can burn extra calories by incorporating physical activity into your daily routine.

Nutrient-dense foods

Nutrient-dense foods (think: fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains) provide a high level of vitamins and minerals in proportion to the amount of calories consumed. Making nutrient-dense foods a regular part of your diet can help reduce the risk of chronic disease.

A family scratch their heads as they stand in a supermarket aisle


Overweight refers to an above normal body weight. A BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight, while a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese. It is only an approximate measure of the best weight for your health.


An essential building block of the human body, protein can be found in meat, tofu, dairy, eggs, nuts, beans and legumes and some vegetables. Looking to track your protein intake? There are plenty of apps available that can help you with this.

Refined grains

Refined grains are those that have been highly processed and are significantly changed from their original state. They tend to lack fibre, vitamins and minerals, making them less healthy than their wholegrain counterparts. An example is white rice compared to wholegrain or brown rice.

Saturated fat

Saturated fat contributes to heart disease because it raises the body’s LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. It is found in processed foods such as takeaway, biscuits and cakes and is also found in butter, meat, egg yolks, coconut and palm oil.


Triglycerides are a type of dietary fat in bloodstream that your cells use for energy. Foods that contain a lot of cholesterol or saturated fats tend to raise triglyceride levels which can negatively impact heart health. Other causes of high triglycerides include excessive alcohol consumption, poorly managed diabetes, thyroid conditions or liver and kidney disorders.

Unsaturated fat

Commonly known as monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fat, these types of fat are also referred to as healthy fats. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can help lower your LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Unsaturated fats can be found in foods such as fish, olive oil, avocados and nuts.


Vitamins are organic compounds that sustain vital functions in the body and help to boost your immune system. The best way to obtain vitamins is through eating a balanced diet containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.

Whole grains

Whole grains are those that still contain the three layers of grain, germ, endosperm and bran, and are naturally higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals than processed grains.

Now that you know your LDLs from your HDLs, it’s time to break down some frequently used private health insurance terms with our article – Jargon-busting the most common private health insurance terms.

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