What Does Nourish Mean and Why Is It Important?

A variety of nourishing ingredients

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Food provides so many important aspects to human life. It's a way to connect with family and friends, it provides pleasure and enjoyment, and it supplies the sustenance and nourishment that we need for healthy living.

The nutrients in foods, such as vitamins, minerals and protein, help the body function properly, and help us ward off chronic diseases. Find out how you can optimally fuel your body with the right nourishing foods for overall health.

What Does Nourish Mean?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary nourish means to provide people or living things with food that helps keep them healthy and promotes growth. Meanwhile, the Collins Dictionary indicates that nourish means providing people with food that is essential for life, growth, and good health.

These definitions not only outline the power of food in the human diet, but also the important role it plays in growth, development, health, and disease prevention. Food contains nutrients that our body uses everyday for all of its basic functions like breathing, digesting food, and keeping warm as well as provides energy for all of our activities.

Food also provides nutrients that help with the growth and repair of muscles, bones, and tissues. It even ensures the immune system functions normally. The essential nutrients in food include macronutrients, which provide calories (energy) to the body, and the micronutrients, which we need in smaller amounts to help the body function normally.

Macronutrients are carbohydrate, protein and fat while micronutrients are water, vitamins (such as vitamins A, C, D, E,) and micronutrients are minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.

Benefits of Proper Nourishment

If your diet is filled with nourishing foods, it can have a positive effect on overall health. In fact, some studies show that a nourishing diet such as the Mediterranean or DASH diet are associated with better cognitive function and a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Meanwhile, higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and other cancers. It also can exacerbate inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's and colitis as well as lead to cognitive decline.

When you do not get enough nutrients in your diet over time, you can develop nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to health problems. For example, calcium deficiency can lead to reduced bone strength and osteoporosis.

Getting too much of a specific nutrient can also be detrimental. For example, getting too much calcium—typically due to over supplementation with calcium—can cause kidney problems, constipation, nausea, heart arrhythmias, and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. Balance is key.

Benefits of Nourishment

Food provides the nutrients for overall health. When the body is well nourished from a balanced diet, some benefits include:

  • Well-functioning immune system
  • Healthy skin, teeth, and eyes
  • Strength of muscles and bones
  • Lower risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers
  • Longer lifespan
  • Normal digestive system function
  • Maintenance of a healthy weight

How to Nourish Your Body

By eating foods from the five food groups, which are based on the USDA My Plate plan, you should be able to get all of the nutrients your body needs on a daily basis. When selecting foods, aim for whole or minimally-processed choices as often as possible, and choose fewer ultra-processed foods. This will help you naturally cut back on saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium, which can cause issues if consumed in excess.

Whole and minimally-processed foods include any fresh or frozen vegetable or fruit, whole grain foods like brown rice, oats, quinoa, and barley, as well as poultry, meat, eggs, fish and seafood, and tofu. Rounding out the list of essentials include lentils and beans, nuts and seeds and dairy foods such as milk and yogurt.

Five Food Groups

  1. Fruits
  2. Vegetables
  3. Grains (at least half should be whole grains)
  4. Protein foods such as seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy-based products
  5. Dairy, which includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy beverages

While "fat" isn't its own food group, it's also important to include some nourishing fat in the diet, from foods such as olive oil, avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds.

Ultra-processed foods to choose less often include salty chips and pretzels, pastries, cakes and pies, candy and chocolate, fast food burgers and fried chicken, packaged soups, chicken nuggets, and hotdogs.

Ultra-processed foods are fine to enjoy on occasion as part of an overall healthy eating plan, but should not be the focus of every meal and snack. They do not contain the nutrients that your body requires for optimal health. Ultra-processed foods also are linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

Sample 7-Day Menu

Sample 7-Day Menu
  Breakfast  Lunch  Dinner  Snacks 
Day 1  Oatmeal, Greek yogurt, fruit Noodles with chicken and veg  Tofu, rice, stir-fried vegetables Ice cream; fruit
Day 2  Whole grain and fruit muffin; latte Vegetable quiche, salad, fruit Chicken, quinoa, leafy greens Veg with hummus; fruit 
Day 3  Avocado toast, eggs, fruit Chickpea pasta salad with veg Bean, rice, cheese and veg burrito bowls Edamame; fruit
Day 4  Oatmeal, Greek yogurt, fruit Turkey sandwich, carrots, apple Pizza, broccoli & cauliflower stir-fry, fruit Banana with peanut butter; dark chocolate
Day 5  Pancakes, yogurt, berries Tuna sushi, rice, salad, edamame, Beef or veggie burger, whole grain bun, salad Smoothie; apple + almond butter
Day 6  Avocado toast, eggs, fruit Bean chili, whole wheat bun, fruit Salmon, brown rice, stir-fried vegetables  Cheese & crackers; fruit 
Day 7  Oatmeal, Greek yogurt, fruit Egg or cheese sandwich, salad  Chicken, farro, salad Trail mix with nuts & dried fruit; cookie
This menu contains many nourishing foods that contribute to good health. It's not meant to be followed directly, but can be used as a guideline to ensure you get a variety of nutritious foods in your meal plans each day.

Other Things to Consider

Some fad diets may not provide all of the nutrients that are required for proper nourishment. Work with a registered dietitian to ensure your eating habits are safe and beneficial to your overall health. They also can help you ensure that you have a varied and balanced diet that helps you meet your nutritional needs.

A balanced diet also can help you achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and some cancers. If you have disordered eating, are a picky eater, or have food allergies or intolerances that limit your food intake, check with a dietitian to see if you are still meeting your nutritional needs.

A Word From Verywell

Filling your plate with a variety of nourishing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and protein-rich foods is the best way to nourish your body. Eating well can not only help maintain good health but also may reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

If you are not sure if you are getting the proper nourishment, work with a registered dietitian to assess your eating habits. They can help you come up with a plan that meets your particular needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is nourishment a basic human need?

    Food provides the nutrients that we need for all of the body's basic functions, from breathing to digestion to immunity. In order for your body to be nourished, you need to eat a balanced diet.

  • What problems are associated with the lack of nourishment?

    Not getting enough nutrients is linked to an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.

  • What is over nourishment and why is it an issue?

    Over nourishment is an excessive intake of nutrients, leading to accumulation of body fat that impairs health. It occurs when we take in more nutrients than the body requires, which can lead to health problems including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

16 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Collins Dictionary. Nourish.

  3. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Why we need to eat well.

  4. National Institute on Aging. What do we know about diet and prevention of Alzheimer's disease?

  5. Srour B, Fezeu LK, Kesse-Guyot E, et al. Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (Nutrinet-santé). BMJ. Published online May 29, 2019:l1451. doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l1451 

  6. Srour B, Fezeu LK, Kesse-Guyot E, et al. Ultraprocessed Food Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Among Participants of the NutriNet-Santé Prospective CohortJAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(2):283–291. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.5942

  7. Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, et al. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ. 2018;360:k322. doi.10.1136/bmj.k322

  8. Narula, N et al. Association of ultra-processed food intake with risk of inflammatory bowel disease: prospective cohort study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 2021. 374, n1554. doi.10.1136/bmj.n1554

  9. Weinstein, G., et al. Consumption of ultra-processed food and cognitive decline among older adults with type-2 diabetesThe Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences, glac070. Advance online publication. 2022. doi.10.1093/gerona/glac070

  10. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Calcium health professional fact sheet.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Benefits of healthy eating.

  12. USDA My Plate. Back to Basics - All About My Plate Food Groups.

  13. USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.

  14. Food and Agriculture Organization. Ultra-processed foods, diet quality and the NOVA classification system.

  15. USDA. What is a healthy diet?

  16. Mathur P, Pillai R. Overnutrition: Current scenario & combat strategiesIndian J Med Res. 2019;149(6):695. doi:10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1703_18

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
 Cara Rosenbloom RD is a dietitian, journalist, book author, and the founder of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company in Toronto, ON.