7 Health Buzzwords We Need to Stop Using

by Brittany Risher
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7 Health Buzzwords We Need to Stop Using

These days there are so many so-called superfoods and labels on packaged foods that it’s hard to know what’s really healthy and what’s hype. Why does a green juice need to have “vegan” on it or a salsa need to say “gluten free,” when both foods are naturally those things?

“On one hand, ‘buzzwords’ definitely work as far as traction and traffic go — they can help get someone to read an article that may be very helpful and informative, and they are what everyone is Googling,” says Keri Glassman, RD, founder of Nutritious Life. “But it’s important to keep in mind that many times a buzzword is just that and you need to read beyond the word.”

This is especially true because not all buzzwords have a standard definition, nor do they mean a certain food is healthy. “One of the things that happens is that they create a health halo around a particular food. We think, ‘Oh, that’s going to be better because it’s a non-GMO gummy bear,” says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, owner of Active Eating Advice. “So then we overlook the fact that it’s still a cookie or a cheese puff, and we consume unnecessary calories and spend more than we normally would.”

Be especially wary of these seven buzzwords dietitians are sick of hearing:


While it may seem as though, ‘Duh, who wants to eat something unnatural?’, this term isn’t defined by the FDA, so from a packaged food standpoint, it can really be anything, Glassman says.


“Clean means free of what?” Bonci asks. “This is not a term that provides any useful or helpful direction.” 


We can all admit this term is overused. First it was acai, then it was kale and then quinoa. Now almost anything gets labeled a superfood. “What makes one food more super than another?” says Bonci, noting that different foods are high in different nutrients, plus a lot of the claims about superfoods are just that — claims, not proven scientific facts. “Nobody can only eat acai berries and call it a day,” Bonci says. “And you’re not jeopardizing your health if you’re not eating superfoods.”



“Research has shown that fat is our friend,” Glassman says. “And it’s well known now that when fat is removed, other ingredients like sugar are added to make up for it.” That added sugar often makes fat-free or low-fat foods have just as many calories as the regular version. Plus, fats help the body absorb many vitamins in addition to keeping you full.

5. -FREE

Bonci goes a step further and says to avoid a label saying a food is “free” of anything. “It doesn’t mean it’s any better, and oftentimes the foods never had that ingredient anyway,” she says. “It’s one thing if you need to watch out for gluten or dairy, but we have transcended that. There’s gluten-free water.”


“Here again, foods that would never have GMO ingredients in the first place get slapped with this label because food companies know many consumers are concerned about GMOs,” Bonci says. There are only eight genetically modified crops commercially available in the US: papaya, sugar beets, corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa and squash. If none of those foods are on the ingredients list, then of course it’s GMO-free.


“Nobody is going to put ‘complicated’ on the label,” Bonci says, adding that “anything in a package had to go through some processing.” That doesn’t make the food any better or worse per se. Plus, “you don’t see ‘simply made’ on an apple, but it grows on a tree from the ground,” Bonci says.


  • Gen

    #6 on this list is literally not true, there are tons more genetically modified foods for sale in the grocery store in the US. Tomatoes are just one example that was not listed in the article. Tomatoes were genetically modified with certain gene sequences from peanut plants in the last ten years. The advantage of this modification is that this particular peanut gene sequence makes tomato plants more resistant to tomato blight. The recent increased interest in heirloom tomato varieties is to avoid this relatively recent genetic modification.

    • wackawacka

      There it is. The dumbest thing I’ve read all week. And it’s only Monday.

    • As a distinction, there are no GM tomatoes for sale in the United States. However there may be tomato-based products that have genetically-engineered ingredients.

      It’s not incorrect to omit tomatoes from the list of GM crops.

      And, better question would be, “Why does it matter?” There is no evidence of anyone ever being harmed, hurt, or injured by a GM variation of a food that would normally be safe for them to eat.

      Meaning, if a person can safely eat papaya….there’s no reason to think they’re going to have a different experience eating a GM-papaya.

      Anti-GM is a form of anti-science.

      • Itldo Mason

        Anti-science / Pseudo-science….it’s unfortunate so many people lump together hybridization and gene transfer techniques and call them ‘GMO’.
        By that logic I am a living breathing example of a Genetically Modified Organism (My mom and dad’s fault)

      • Bree

        Lots of bologna here. WOW – Science has its place for sure and being anti-GMO does not make a person anti Sciene at all. There is evidence emerging every day about the harm of GMO food. Please educate yourself on the difference between GMO and plant breeding. There is various informative sites out there that explain the difference very very well.

    • Gabby Seymour

      Where are you getting your information? I would be interested in seeing your sources.

      • Bree

        Wow – I don;;t know where you get this information. You need to educate yourself about GMO and how it differs from normal plant breeding. TWO completely different things.

  • AllergyFree

    In response to number five, the allergy community really struggles because not enough companies are transparent on their labels, and we end up calling with a million questions. Listing free from on water might sound silly, but if it’s funneled through the same machines as corn corn syrup, someone with a corn allergy would need to know.

    This argument is underdeveloped and is not helpful to those of us who learned of our severe allergies later in life and are socially treated like it’s a frivolous decision. Labels should list ‘free from’ the top 8 at the very least. It’s not a buzzword to a lot of us and making it so invalidates my health journey.

    There are so many code words disguising gluten, corn, dog, dairy, etc. and some that could literally be anything (maltodextrin), there already isn’t enough transparency, this argument is damaging.

    • AllergyFree

      Soy* not dog. I don’t believe dog meat is being disguised in our food.

      • Jackson Lehmann

        Seems like nowadays…people are always either triggered or offended huh??…even ignoring the title, content and target audience and directly jumping on to correcting others on how they should do their job…
        Thank God for PC!!!because without PC it would have been a little difficult to identify idiots….

        • David

          Whenever an opinion is put forward, it opens an avenue for criticism because no one opinion is global. It’s not a recent thing, it’s been around for 14000 years

  • Fenn Ciel

    I completely disagree with “-free” as a coeliac with anxiety I can tell you right now that labelling things as “-free” needs to happen MORE not less. If every single thing that had no trace of gluten in it said “Gluten-Free” or every single thing that contained gluten advertised “Contains Gluten” as much as these hype products promote their “buzzwords” I wouldn’t have to look at labels every single time I bought a product just to see if they changed the formula, reading the fine print to see if they manufactured the naturally gluten-free product using equipment or in an evironment that could could cross contamination. It’s a BIG DEAL. And it’s unnecessarily difficult to figure out if something is or is not gluten-free. If you’re eating gluten-free for the buzz, then whatever, the fad will pass and people will realise it’s no healthier than eating gluten, but for those of us who could die from long term gluten consumption and who are crippled with stomach aches from small amounts of cross contamination these big “gluten-free” labels are a freaking God send! That is probably the same for people needing lactose, dairy, soy, nut, etc. -free products. Labels should be honest, I agree, but these allergen announcements need to be more consistent, clearer and more obvious on the packet, not less.

    • Jackson Lehmann

      The article is more about diet conscious people who should avoid the buzzwords and targeted at manufacturers…..so you are good pal…..

      • Jackson Lehmann

        Sorry about the typo… I meant to say not targeted at manufacturers…

    • Tj Reinert

      So you think that because an EXTREMELY small percent of the population has problems with gluten, that we should all have to suffer through excess packaging and words that aren’t needed, just so you can have an easier time? You have an issue that requires you to be extra careful. You. This is not the worlds problem.

      • Brian

        I recently saw an advertisement for gluten-free bottled water… How do you feel about that?

      • anddarling1

        So you’re like, super rude and mean. 🙂 Sorry the phrase “gluten-free” is causing you to SUFFER.

        I cannot believe you genuinely think you’re the one “suffering” when a company chooses when and when not to explicitly say “gluten-free.” Sorry people with disease are just supposed to get sick for your convenience, trash-human.

  • Sandra Smith

    I would add that gluten-free is another overused term. I see it used on everything from fish to fruit. Gluten is the name of proteins found in wheat and certain other grains and is a problem for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. “Gluten-free” has become a hot marketing ploy due to the misconception that it is bad for you. Most people, except for those with the conditions mentioned above, tolerate gluten without any problems.

    • AllergyFree

      But don’t these people with intolerances deserve honest labeling? It’s no different than indications “peanut free” or nut cross contamination. Not everyone has but allergies, but we don’t call that a trend.

      • Gabby Seymour

        It is required by law for companies to have honest labeling in the ingredients section on the back. We already have honest labeling. Posting anything conveniently on the front is voluntary, and not regulated. It’s responsible to read the ingredients list for allergy-related concerns.

    • abungay

      I don’t think it is over used. I like going to the store and not spending half of my time calling companies of the food I want to buy to see if it is safe. The labeling, even if it something that I know shouldn’t have gluten in it gives me peace of mind. Also there is a lot of cross contamination. I have bought things I thought there would never be gluten in this, get home cook it and wow I am sick for days. So yea, even if it might seem excessive to some it make life a lot easier for others.

  • Hamza

    Very stupid article. Sounds more like a rant by someone. Nothing to take from the article either, unless you learnt a few new terms. Either way those words should stay, they simply add more to day about a product. Although I do agree some words like clean are kind of useless but that’s just me. We all see the world through our own pair of spectacles. And this paragraph is how I see it. =D

  • Lil Red Riding Hood

    Ok. I have to admit the whole “NON-GMO” thing has always had me stumped.
    Truthfully I assumed it meant that it was organically farmed, no pesticides.
    Guess I was wrong. Lol

  • Rcg

    I spent some time thinking that “natural” was an important distinction, until someone very kindly reminded me that arsenic is also “natural”, but it’s not good for you.

    • Bree

      When it comes to food, I dislike the term natural as it is misused by many food manufacturers. prepared food only needs to include a small component of “natural” ingredients to qualify for the label. The term organic is also wrong. It should say “Traditional” meaning the food is grown using traditional methods as they used in our grandparents and great grandparents time. That is how we grow all our food.

  • Bree

    In my experience the word “free” typically hides many other evils. I came across a package of candy that had big bold lettering across the bag announcing the candy as FATFREE. I just had to laugh – The first ingredient was sugar, the second was red current flavour then a whole bunch of ingredients I could not read……..
    I disagree with your statement concerning GMO – you forgot to list GMO potatoes, GMO tomatoes and GMO apples. A man died in Spain from eating a GMO tomato – it contains fish DNA and he was extremely allergic to all fish.

    • Britany Lenz

      That was what I was going to say. In college we compared GMO strawberries with non and the difference in diameter was like an inch. So… I don’t agree with that. But most of these things are just for marketing. Food companies have to keep up with the latest trends or they don’t get bought. It’s up to people to stay up to date with their knowledge because it is a forever changing part of life.

      • Bree

        You are wrong Britany: It is the food companies that need to inform us what is in the food they produce. Proper labelling would be a good start. GMO food is untested, altered food, now emerging for what it is: dangerous goods.

    • Nelbee

      The myth of a man allergic to fish dying after eating a GMO tomato has been debunked. Check out the source of your story for its reputability.

      • Bree

        you better check yours. Mine is from source.

    • Eóin Meyler

      I understand your concern but I feel like you’ve been mislead on a number of things. I want to make it clear, I’m not attacking you or blaming you. Quite the opposite.
      As luck would have it for an article on buzzwords, the source for the Tomato claim comes from a site operating under the current buzzword of ‘Fake News’. Except in this case, it actually is fake news, like the Onion but less clever and actively trying to mislead people. It’s quite insidious but that’s a rant for another day…

      I’d also like to clear up some misconceptions you might have about GMOs. They’ve received a bad reputation in the popular conscious, mostly because of unfounded speculation and a healthy dose of purposeful fearmongering. Despite what many facebook posts may have you believe, Genetic Modification is a tool, a particularly useful tool and one that humans have been using for roughly 10,000 years in one form or another. Orginally it took the form of selective breeding, where thousands upon thousands of different genes are close to randomly changed until the Farmer ends up with a desired trait. This is how humans created lemons, sheep, dogs, carrots, corn, watermelons and my favourite one, bananas. Seriously, find yourself a picture of a wild banana, it’s ridiculous how different they are!

      Although you didn’t mention them, I would like to also point out that the term ‘Organic’ is basically meaningless. Sort of. It actually has a very specific scientific meaning, but much like ‘theory’ it’s meaning has changed to suit whoever is currently using. The actual meaning of Organic “is noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon”. If we want to be technical here, and we should be, petroleum is organic. In the vernacular, ‘Organic’ and ‘Natural’ have become, despite the actual patent ridiculousness of the idea, synonymous with ‘Healthy’. The selectively bred, organic Lenape Potato begs to differ.

      I’ve rambled on for a good bit here and barely covered even half of what I’d like to say about about the agricultural industry and the disturbing modern trend of distrust in experts. The last thing I want is to start an argument. However, I am very open to the idea of starting an open conversation with anyone that would like to participate. In your reply, if you could type ‘Pineapple’ at the start, just to let me know that you’ve read all the way to the end of my rather verbose monologue, that would be very helpful.

  • Katherine Marie

    I totally disagree that “Vegan” is an unnecessary label. Perhaps salsa should already be animal product free but that does not automatically mean that it is – and in this world where they put gelatin in peanuts and milk in almost everything, it is DEFINITELY needed.
    I do, however, agree that the false labels of ‘clean’ and ‘superfood’ need to be abolished. These are fake buzzwords and are making orthorexia feel very real to people with this eating disorder.

  • Tracey Szczubelek

    Some points in this article are valid, but some info is just wrong…as to non-GMO, there are also GMO apples, potatos & salmon…plus corn and sugar beets are in tremendous amounts of prepared/packaged food. So it’s very important to be aware of what you are eating & articles like this tend to make people think there’s nothing to worry about…Not a good job here

    • Bree

      Well said, thank you. I also feel that this article was written and posted to lull people into thinking all is well with the “other” food.

    • JustSnilloc

      Except for perhaps the fact that there generally isn’t anything to worry about with GMOs?

  • Bree

    Thank you Britany – just one more correction. GMO typically involves inserting a gene that is from another species. Yes, it is to make it bigger or “better” but it is so contrary to nature that our body is not able to handle this DNA change. This is just being studied now and results are mind boggling. Personally, I stay away from GMO completely even to the point of not buying any processed food that has corn starch or corn syrup in it. We eat a clean, whole food diet.

    • Allan Nienhuis

      “our body is not able to handle this DNA change”
      People eat GMO food every single day without issue. How are those results mind boggling?.

  • Bree

    Sorry for having to correct you but Bananas are not genetically modified. Bananas are a typical example of plant breeding which is COMPLETELY different from genetic modification. I recommend that you watch Dr. Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things” explanation of the difference.

    • AnonUserPerson

      What do you think breeding is? Whether you are selectively breeding in or out *genetic* traits in a lab or on a farm, it amounts to the same thing. Anyone that tells you otherwise is touting nonsense pseudoscience, including Dr. Suzuki (a zoologist, mind you.)

      • Bree

        It is people that think like you that will be the downfall of our food sources as Mother Nature intended them and the Creator provided them. Genetic modification is NOT the same as plant breeding. You obviously read materials provided by the likes of Monsanto and Bayer.

  • Bree

    My final comments to this article is: Buyer beware – Thoroughly check your food sources and your food before you stick it in your mouth. It is better to invest in good health than invest in trying to deal with disease.

  • Jason Langdon

    The word “Super” itself is highly over used. I’m super-happy to announce that I’m being Super-active with my new Super-workout plan that’s making me feel Super-healthy and Super-strong. This helps me get a Super-night’s sleep. it’s super-secrete so don’t share this with anyone but if you sens me a PM i’d be super-excited to send you all the super-details. grrrrrrr

  • Eric Heide

    Your blog is incorrect. As far as commercially available GMO products. There was a guy who died of a fish allergy because he ate a tomate that had fish DNA inserted into. There is a lot of stuff that is GMO. The ones you refer to are the one’s that are commonly sprayed with Round-Up, but there are others as well such as strawberries that have scorpion DNA in it. Please do further research on the matter.