(1) A healthy diet should provide all your essential nutrients.

To find out the exact meaning of "should" here, I opened a dictionary and found the following:

should - used to say that something is expected or correct:
Everyone should [=ought to] have a copy of the handout.
There should be four place settings at the table, not six.
“He feels very sorry about what happened.” “Well, he should!”
You should be ashamed of yourself, behaving so rudely to our guests!
They should be here by now. = They should have arrived by now. [=I expected them to be here by now]

Therefore, according to the meaning above, (1) means:
(2) A healthy diet is expected to provide all your essential nutrients.

Could you tell me please whether the meaning of "should" I found is appropriate for (1)?
If not, then what meaning from dictionaries do I need?

  • 2
    It seems to be a poor example. If a diet isn't providing the necessary nutrients, then it isn't a healthy diet. A healthy diet does provide all your essential nutrients. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 16:31
  • 2
    What @WeatherVane said. But it's quite normal in English to pepper your speech / writing with auxiliary verbs like should, ought to, might, could,... just in case what you're saying turns out not to be true. Or because even though speaker/writer is quite certain that his utterance is true, baldly making just about any assertion might come across as "arrogant" or similar. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 16:48
  • I would guess that the meaning is: you should expect a diet constructed according to the basic rules of healthy eating to provide all your essential nutrients (and not need supplementation). Here a healthy diet does not mean one constructed by scientists to contain 100% of nutrients (that would indeed be tautologous), but simply a diet that contains lots of healthy foods in balanced proportions, such as you can eat if you follow basic dietary rules (eat your veg, get some fibre/roughage, don't have too much sugar or fat).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 17:13
  • You're agreeing with a dictionary. This seems uncontroversial. Why do you think you might be wrong?
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 17:53
  • 1
    @gotube 1) I thought maybe somebody would said that it's a special case and "should" here means "must" or "is obliged to". But nobody said it. 2) Before this example I didn't have the item next to "should" in my vocabulary that we can use "should" instead of "to be expected to". Now such an item arose.
    – Loviii
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 19:16

2 Answers 2


This use of "should" is suspect, as Weather Vane has pointed out in the comments, but I can make a reasonable case for it.

There's a sense of "should" that means "is supposed to" in the function of contrasting what something does with what's expected.

A: I bought a car listed as new, but the odometer reads over 1000 km.
B: That's no good. A new car should have less than 300 km on it.

The meaning here is that by definition, this isn't a new car at all. In this sense, we can imagine this conversation:

A: Sam's diet is so healthy -- it's just orange juice.
B: No. A healthy diet should provide all your essential nutrients. Orange juice alone cannot do that.

In this context, "should provide" means something like "is defined as providing".

So it's possible, but without a context like this, it's not a great example sentence.


This is quite a subtle thing.

To be perfectly healthy, with no supplements, a healthy diet must provide all your essential nutrients.

However, you can eat a very healthy diet that omits one or two (vegans often take supplements, even though their diets are basically healthy).

So, "A healthy diet should provide all your essential nutrients so that you do not need supplements" makes perfect sense.

The example given just omits the extra information that explains why it 'should', instead of 'must'.

  • 1
    Vegan diets will kill you, eventually, without supplements. There's no 'should' involved at all here. Don't confuse 'vegan' with 'healthy'. Many people do. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 19:07
  • 1
    Quite correct. A vegan diet can be healthy, but does require supplements.
    – PRL75
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 19:23

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