Whenever there is talk of malnutrition, we tend to think of poor African kids with swollen bellies and flies on their faces. Whereas malnutrition is a genuine and serious problem in many parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world, many people don't realise that it does actually also exist beyond the confines of those impoverished areas.
A person appearing to be relatively healthy could still be suffering from malnutrition if they are eating too many junk foods that are lacking in vitamins and minerals and/or stripping their body of important nutrients. They could also be eating too little nutritious food because of the latest fad diet that restricts their food intake dramatically, or cuts out important foods.
We need a wide variety of nutrients to supply energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to our bodies. If any one of these nutrients is deficient, malnutrition develops.
Remember the documentary Supersize Me a few years ago? A guy called Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonalds for an entire month. The result of his controversial experiment was not only a weight gain of 11 kilos, he also started to experience mood swings, fatigue, heart palpitations and had a near liver failure, because of the sudden weight gain, high fat and sodium intake and a serious deficiency in essential nutrients. Did you know that refined sugars and grains, for example, deplete the body of B vitamins, which are important for a healthy nervous system and emotional stability? Soda drinks also tend to deplete our calcium reserves, which could cause weak bones and osteoporosis.
Furthermore, if your diet is lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables, you are most certainly lacking important micro nutrients.
When people go on a diet, the danger exists that they not only cut the calories and carbs, but also vitamins and minerals. A recent study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that many slimmers had an inadequate intake of the vitamins A, K and C and a total of 65% of the women participating in the study were not getting enough Vitamin E.
Many people also do not realise that if you suffer from certain medical conditions or take certain long-term medications, you could not be getting all the essential nutrients that your body needs to function optimally.
Health24's nutrition expert, Dr Ingrid van Heerden, aka DietDoc, has written a very comprehensive article on malnutrition. It is worth acquainting yourself with the wide spectrum of causes and symptoms of malnutrition that can affect people at all stages of their lives, from infancy to old age, and to learn what you can do to avoid malnutrition in the first place.
(Birgit Ottermann, Health24, Nutrition Newsletter, July 2010)
Nutrition basics - a healthy balance