Stop Limiting Nutritional Value to Calories, Vitamins & Minerals

March 11th, 2018 by Sara Upson


If there’s one thing I’m tired of hearing people say it’s “that food has no nutritional value.” {facepalm}   I do get it. You’re saying that food doesn’t offer a lot of nutrition, it doesn’t have a lot of vitamins and minerals, it’s “empty calories.” BUT you don’t eat calories. You don’t eat vitamins and minerals. You eat food.



Unless a food has zero calories, then it offers nutrition and has nutritional value. For example- “nonnutritive sweeteners” you know, sweetnlow, splenda, xylitol, stevia, etc they have zero calories therefore they have no nutrition. That weird salad dressing that you find at the health food store that has zero calories – that has no nutritional value. (What is that stuff even made out of????)


A food may not have a lot of vitamins and minerals- but that’s okay. Nutritional Value exists on a spectrum. Some foods will have more vitamins and minerals (aka nutrition) and some will have less. The good news is: food is intended to be averaged over time to meet your nutrition needs (therefore, not every food has to be packed with vitamins/minerals).

Food offers a lot more than just vitamins and minerals; it also offers nutritional value through satisfaction and variety.


Satisfaction with eating is really important. When you eat foods that you enjoy you’ll feel more satisfied with your eating. When you feel more satisfied with your eating you absorb more nutrients and tend to eat less overall (i.e. less bingeing/ out of control eating and a more definitive message that you’re done)- because you listen to your body! It’s pretty amazing!


By choosing foods that bring you satisfaction you’ll absorb more nutrition. Yes, that means if you’re eating all that food packed with vitamins and minerals, but not enjoying it, then you may not be absorbing as much from it if you just ate what you really wanted- even if it had less nutrition in it.


Eating foods that you enjoy triggers the “satisfaction factor.” When you eat foods that make you feel satisfied you’ll end up eating less. For example, you ever wanted a cookie, but convinced yourself that you should have a rice cake instead? What happened next? Most people end up eating multiple rice cakes and then still have the cookie! By eating what you really want you’re better able to honor your body’s hunger and fullness cues and thus experience more satisfaction with eating.


When you pursue foods that only offer “nutritional value” based on vitamins and minerals it completely negates the fact that satisfaction also offers nutritional benefit and value. It leaves you constantly feeling unsatisfied, thinking about food more often, and desiring something else. While it’s not possible to be satisfied with your eating 100% of the time (life happens), it is possible to feel satisfied with your eating most of the time (but not if you’re only choosing food based on nutritional value).  So don’t choose foods based on calories, grams, points, what others eat, on diet rules, or on what you believe you should be eating- the satisfaction signal will not happen.



In addition to satisfaction, there is a lot of nutritional value that comes from variety.   By eating a wider variety of food you’ll experience different tastes and textures (which contributes to satisfaction), you’ll limit your exposure to anything harmful found in food, you’ll increase exposure to a wider variety of health promoting compounds (some of which when combined together will enhance absorption of other nutrients), you’ll expand the helpful bacteria found in the GI tract, plus if you’re in the recovery process from an eating disorder or disordered eating- increased variety is protective of recovery. ß that’s definitely something that offers nutritional value.



Eating foods that diet culture labels as having “no nutritional value” may help you expand the variety of foods you eat and even enhance overall nutrition intake.   I often hear people say, oh I never eat ______ because it has no nutritional value. Probably the most common food is iceburg lettuce. For example, if your children (or you) don’t like leafy green vegetables like romaine or spinach, but do enjoy iceburg lettuce- you can use the foods you like to expand the variety of foods you eat. This is called food chaining. You take a food that you enjoy- like iceburg lettuce and include it as part of normal eating.  You then introduce a new food that’s very similar in taste and/or texture. Iceburg lettuce isn’t that different than romaine or baby bib. If you eat iceburg- or your kids eat iceburg lettuce then the lettuce itself can be a stepping stone into expanding variety. If you think oh, iceburg has no nutritional value so you don’t eat it at all, you may miss the opportunity to expand you (or your child’s) nutrition to a wider variety of food.



Eliminating food because it has “no nutritional value” may mean you end up getting less fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If you don’t eat a food because it’s labeled as having “no nutritional value”, you end up missing out on the vitamins and minerals in that food plus the vitamins and minerals of the foods you would eat with it. For example, again with iceburg lettue, if you like iceburg lettuce (and don’t like other types of lettuce or spinach) but believe iceburg lettuce to be a “pointless food with no nutritional value” then you’ll likely eat no leafy greens at all.   You would get more nutrition from eating any vegetable (ice burg lettuce) than by having none. And if you eat iceburg lettuce as part of a salad where you include other foods: tomato, cucumber, cheese, salad dressing etc- then you miss all the vitamins and minerals that those other foods would offer.


Instead of trying to adhere to an impossible diet that consists only of foods with “nutritional value” as defined by diet culture, remember that there is more to food than vitamins and minerals. The nutritional value of food isn’t defined by vitamins and minerals alone, it also includes variety, satisfaction and joy with eating which are an essential part of health and well-being.


Want to discover more satisfaction with your eating?  Get my free guide + mini course to rejecting diet culture.



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