Malnutrition is more common than you think

Chances are someone you know and love is not receiving the nutrients they need to be their physical and mental best.

Malnutrition takes on many appearances. Individuals who are malnourished do not necessarily look thin, sick or weak. Malnutrition isn’t unique to developing or poor countries. Chances are someone you know and love is not receiving the nutrients they need to be their physical and mental best.

Mal, from the French, means bad. Bad or malnutrition goes hand in hand with obesity. It is possible; it is even probable, that an overweight person may consume many calories, but few nutrients. According to the Food Policy Research Institute, highly processed and fast foods contain few of the vitamins and minerals necessary to prevent disease. As high calorie and nutrient poor foods replace nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables, micronutrient malnutrition may develop. This may be why we find increased rates of diabetes, hypertension, anemia, and cancer in populations that are obese – or should we say malnourished?

Micronutrient malnutrition is sometimes called hidden hunger. This refers to the body’s persistent hunger for vitamins and minerals, even if calorie needs have been met. Increased awareness of how the qualities of the calories we eat affect our health has prompted food pantries to ask for donations of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. There has been a surge in interest in the quality of school lunches which prompted legislation regarding improved school nutrition standards. Pressure from the public has prompted mass food producers and buyers to improve the quality of their food products.

As our communities are moving toward a healthier America through improved nutrition, we are beginning to understand that easy access to convenient, processed foods does not mean better nourished individuals. Less time in the kitchen might not be the path to healthier bodies. In order to assure that we are getting the nutrients we need to learn, grow and prevent disease, we must be more conscious of the quality of the food that we purchase or donate.

If you and your family are working toward better nutrition, try this: The next time you are at the grocery store, shop only the perimeter of the store. Could you feed yourself and your family for a week with no processed foods? Look at the quality of the food in the carts at checkout. Do you see more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy than processed or treat foods in the checkout line? Consider the fact that as long as the bulk of the American diet is from processed foods, fast-foods and restaurant meals, not only is malnutrition possible in the land of plenty, it may be prevalent.

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