Terms and nomenclature used for plant-derived components in nutrition and related research: efforts toward harmonization

Nutr Rev. 2020 Jun 1;78(6):451-458. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz081.


Many terms for plant-derived food components are commonly used in the literature, but there is a notable lack of standardization and definition of nomenclature. The use of terms is often field-specific, leading to misunderstanding and problems with literature searches and systematic reviews, and results in isolated and divided research; this impacts not only publication quality but also innovation, regulatory compliance, and enforcement. To begin to address this issue, this narrative review describes the current use and definition of terms. The terms are either chemical and/or origin-based, such as phytochemical (chemicals from plants), or function-based, such as phytonutrient, bioactive, or nutraceutical. The ultimate goal is to establish a common harmonized, evidence-based understanding for when to use each term, thereby providing clarity and a specific scientific basis for such nomenclature. Neither the quality nor the quantity of evidence needed to allow the use of functional terms such as phytonutrient or nutraceutical is specifically discussed here; rather, it is simply noted that evidence is needed to apply these terms. The next step would be to define the evidence necessary for a compound to have a functional descriptor. The aim in this article is to establish scientific criteria for definitions that could be applied to clearly define and differentiate commonly used terms and thus ensure their consistent application in the scientific literature.

Keywords: bioactive; carotenoid; flavonoid; nomenclature; nutraceutical; phytochemical; phytonutrient; polyphenol.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Sciences
  • Phytochemicals*
  • Plant Preparations*
  • Terminology as Topic*


  • Phytochemicals
  • Plant Preparations