What does "nutritious" (as in "nutritious meal") generally implies? Mostly something with enough (or even a lot of) calories? or more something that has a good variety of the nutrients necessary for a proper, healthy diet?

PS: Adding some of the research I did before asking the question:

I am asking this question because I read for instance in the British dictionary on dictionary.com:

Nutritious: adjective 1. nourishing, sometimes to a high degree

where "nourishing" can be clicked on, with the result:

Nourishing: promoting or sustaining life, growth, or strength

These definitions (or others I can find) are compatible with both the above interpretations ([1] enough (or a lot of) calories, and [2] a variety of nutrients). However, I am asking this question because I implicitly learned from usage (as a non-native speaker) only the first meaning, while a friend (also a non-native speaker) insists that only the second meaning is correct. Since the definitions I can find are somewhat vague, like the above ones (e.g. they are compatible with the idea that nutritious can even refer to things like sleep, which "promotes or sustains life,…", which is, as far as I know, not the case), I can't know for sure which, or if both the interpretations above are implied by "nutritious".

  • EOL, please include within your question the results of your own inquiry into the meaning of 'nutritious', and tell us what still eludes you. – user98990 Jul 9 '15 at 4:02
  • 1
    Thanks. I added some of the research I did and explained why the precise meaning still eludes me. – Eric O Lebigot Jul 9 '15 at 13:20

I would call a meal nutritious if it included a variety of food groups, and there was enough food to satisfy you until your next meal.

I would call a snack nutritious if it had just about any health benefits, for instance, I would call berries a nutritious snack, but not potato chips.


In AmE, it no longer has any meaning, because marketers have twisted and polluted it for their own cupiditous purposes. The Coca-Cola Company, for instance, considers regular Coca-Cola to be part of a nutritious meal, in that it offers a nutrient (HFCS) that provides "energy" (calories) rather than a non-nutritive sweetener such as Aspartame, which does not provide calories.*

The same meaninglessness applies to the words "natural", "low fat", "low cal", "high fiber", "healthy", "home style", etc., ad nauseam. They mean whatever the marketing hucksters want you to think, because legally, they have no definition.

  • Actually even "zero-calorie sweetener" as sold in packets contains nearly 4 calories per 1-gram packet, about the same as white sugar; but the rules say that anything with fewer than 5 calories per serving can be called zero calorie.

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