You Can’t Ruin Nutrition

We have a cultural belief that if we muck up something healthy with something unhealthy, we’ve now ruined the nutrition in what could have been a healthy choice. For example, putting cheese over broccoli or dipping our chicken into ranch dressing or eating pizza for breakfast (feeling the need to say ‘well, at least I ate breakfast’.)

The reality is, we don’t denature or obliterate nutrition when we spruce it up for satisfaction. Broccoli doesn’t lose its fiber and Vitamin A if we sprinkle cheese or even pour a creamy cheese sauce over the top. The protein and fat doesn’t disappear from grilled chicken when we dip it in creamy ranch. Our metabolism still turns on and distributes the nutrients in pizza (carbs, calcium, protein, and micro-nutrients from veggies) when we eat it for breakfast. When we modify our food to accommodate our palates, the nutritional value in our food is still valid. If you add a little something extra tasty to satisfy your taste buds, you’re simply adding to the nutritional pool provided by your meal or snack. It’s okay and normal and healthy to customize your food to satisfy your preferences.


We spend a lot of time coming up with “healthy alternatives” for the fun foods we love to eat: carrots instead of potato chips, smoothies instead ice cream, nuts instead of a bagel, etc. None of these foods are right or wrong or healthy or unhealthy from our bodies’ perspectives. Our bodies don’t say, “Oh! Thanks! I really wanted potato chips but you gave me carrots instead. Good job, you sure are healthy!” Or “Wow! That super green smoothie with the hemp powder and matcha was such a better choice than the Rocky Road with chocolate syrup!” Our bodies don’t judge the food we feed them. Bodies simply read the nutrients, process where the nutrition needs to go, and excrete what they doesn’t use or need.

When we substitute foods with “healthier choices” what we’re actually doing is depriving our bodies of one nutrient and giving them a different nutrient. Our bodies read and operate on nutrients, cuing us through cravings when it needs more of something. So if you’ve got a hankering for potato chips, your body is asking for some carbs and salt (both necessary nutrients), and if you feed it carrots instead then you’ve fed yourself vitamins, fiber, and water. You’ve given your body good nutrition that it will use from the carrots, but it is still missing the carbs and salt… which is why you won’t feel satisfied and will continue craving those chips. Both the chips and the carrots are nutritious because they both contain necessary nutrients the body needs. One is not better than the other in and of itself, but the chips will be a more satisfying choice if your body is running low on carb fuel and if they sound good.

Another fun fact, when we give our bodies permission to eat what sounds good, with zero judgement and zero “guilt free” substitutions, the need to binge goes away. Binging behavior is often a result of deprivation, the constant avoiding or substituting for food deemed “unhealthy.”


Rather than viewing food from a “good” or “bad” perspective or labeling food as “healthy” or “unhealthy,” take a more neutral approach to food, understanding that each food contains its own set of nutrients. A neutral approach allows all foods to be valuable… the super green smoothie AND the Rocky Road are equally good depending on what your body is asking for. The cheese sauce over the broccoli is twice as delicious with the bonus nutrients in the cheese. Either the nuts or the bagel will satisfy depending on how hungry you are. Maybe you want pizza for breakfast and nuts for an afternoon snack. Who knows? You will!

You can’t ruin nutrition. Modifying your food to suit your tastes is not bad. Choosing foods that sound good without substituting for healthier alternatives is 100% okay because all foods carry nutritional value. Knowing these truths takes the guilt, shame, and pressure out of food and allows for a more relaxed and enjoyable eating experience, without the binging and constant wanting.

For more information about nutrition and resources on improving your relationship with food visit:

Martha Barnhouse Wellness
Be Nourished
Christy Harrison MPH, RD, CDN



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