From Vitamin A to Zinc: Your Nutrition Dictionary

Written by Cara Rosenbloom

3 minute read

Not all carbs are bad for you! What’s a carb anyways? And what about vitamins? What distinguishes one from another? Nutrition can be confusing, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. We’re going to break it down with basic definitions of key nutrition terms, so you can read food labels with ease. Together, let’s make informed healthy eating choices.

B-vitamins: This is an umbrella term for a range of vitamins, which all help turn food you eat into usable energy for your body. B-vitamins include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 and B12.

Calcium: This bone-building mineral works in conjunction with vitamin D to help maintain healthy bones and teeth. It’s found in dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, and in fortified milk alternatives such as almond, soy and cashew milk. It’s also found in canned salmon, almonds, leafy greens and sesame seeds.

Carbohydrate: One of the three nutrients that provides calories (energy) to fuel us, carbs are found in grains, vegetables, fruit, beans, milk and sugar. As the main source of energy for the body and brain, carbs are super important! Carbs from whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans are more nutritious than carbs from sugar (or sweet foods like candy, ice cream and cake).

Fat: One of three nutrients that provides calories (energy) to fuel us, fat plays many important roles in the body. It helps us absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; cushions internal organs; and helps the body maintain the right core temperature. Butter, margarine and oil are examples of dietary fats. Foods like fatty fish, nuts, seeds and avocado also contain fat.

Fibre: Fibre is the part of plant foods (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds), that the body can’t digest, so it moves through the digestive tract and comes out as feces. Getting enough fibre ensures regular bowel movements. It can also help manage blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Folate: A B-vitamin, folate aids in red blood cell formation, and is an important factor in normal early fetal development. Women of childbearing age and pregnant women should take folic acid (folate) supplements (400 mcg), which can help with the normal early development of the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Folate is found in foods such as beans, lentils, leafy greens and enriched wheat products (bread and pasta).

Iron: This important mineral helps build red blood cells. It’s found in animal sources like meat, dark poultry, fish, eggs; and plant sources, like beans, lentils and leafy greens. Animal sources of iron are well-absorbed. Plant sources are less well-absorbed and should be taken with some vitamin C-rich foods (strawberries, tomato, broccoli, peppers, citrus), to boost the body’s absorption.
Protein: One of three nutrients that provides calories (energy) to fuel us, protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of many parts of the body. Protein is needed to help build and repair body tissues, build antibodies, and keep muscles strong. Protein-rich foods include fish, poultry, meat, dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, soy and lentils. Foods like vegetables, fruit and whole grains also contain some protein.


Vitamin A: This fat-soluble vitamin aids normal bone and tooth development; helps with the normal functioning of the immune system; and supports healthy skin and eyesight. There are two forms of vitamin A – preformed vitamin A found in animal foods such as dairy, fish and meat; and pro-vitamin A carotenoids, which are found in vegetables and fruit such as carrots, leafy greens and cantaloupe.


Vitamin C: Fruits and vegetables such as sweet peppers, broccoli, berries and oranges are high in vitamin C, which is a vitamin and an antioxidant. As a dietary antioxidant, it helps to reduce free radicals that can damage cells and lead to disease. Vitamin C also helps build teeth, bones, cartilage and gums.


Vitamin D: This vitamin partners with calcium to help build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Often called the sunshine vitamin, it’s made in the body when sunlight hits the skin. It’s also found in some foods, such as milk, eggs and fatty fish. All Canadians over age 50 should take a daily vitamin D supplement (400 IU), since vitamin D deficiency is common.


Zinc: This mineral contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system. Zinc also helps wounds heal and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. It’s found in meat, fish, poultry and seafood (especially oysters!), as well as whole grains and beans.


We hope you’re now equipped with the right information to scout which foods you’d like to add to your pantry based on your health needs. What nutrition term were you most unfamiliar with?

Are you a nutrition nerd? Visit www.unlockfood.ca to learn about each of these nutrients in detail.

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