Thursday, March 30, 2023

Malnutrition feeds the discussion about nutrition

by KATHY HUBBARD Contributing Writer
| March 8, 2023 1:00 AM

To look at him, David was the epitome of health – tall, tan, slim, athletic – but looks can be deceiving. He never ate anything green that looked remotely like a carrot or, heaven forbid, cauliflower. He ate no meat, and if there wasn’t orange juice in his screwdrivers, he wouldn’t even get his daily dose of fruit.

David’s idea of a good meal was pizza with cheese, a grilled cheese sandwich with chips, or pasta Alfredo, hold the parsley. Some days as he ate French fries for lunch, he would insist that potatoes are vegetables, ergo healthy. He bragged that he never saw a doctor. He dropped dead when he was 49.

From everything I’ve been reading, it appears that David suffered a form of malnutrition called micronutrient undernutrition. This occurs when the foods consumed lack certain vitamins and minerals.

Let’s look at malnutrition. The Cleveland Clinic describes it as “an imbalance between the nutrients your body needs to function and the nutrients it gets. It can mean undernutrition or overnutrition. You can be malnourished from an overall lack of calories, or you might have a protein, vitamin, or mineral deficiency. You might also have more excess calories than your body knows what to do with.”

There are four types of malnutrition: Undernutrition, overnutrition, and “an imbalance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) or micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).”

Undernourished is what we most often think about when we hear about malnutrition. It’s simple. It occurs when you don’t have an adequate diet or when you can’t absorb enough nutrients from your food. You can be overweight and undernourished.

“The World Health Organization has recently added overnutrition to its definition of malnutrition to recognize the detrimental health effects that can be caused by excessive consumption of nutrients. This includes the effects of overweight and obesity, which are strongly associated with a list of noncommunicable diseases,” Cleveland says.

Diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, and stroke can often be attributed to macronutrient overnutrition. This is when your body has an excess of protein, carbohydrate, and/or fat calories stored away as fat cells in your adipose tissue. Those fat cells grow when your body runs out of tissue for storage. Enlarged fat cells can lead to chronic inflammation.

Do you know that you can overdose on vitamin and mineral supplements? Cleveland says that more research is needed to explain how it happens or what’s too much, and it generally doesn’t occur from the food you eat. “But if you take mega doses of certain supplements, it can have toxic effects. It’s a good idea to check with your healthcare provider first.”

It’s also important to talk to the medico about your food intake. And he or she may recommend you talk to a registered dietician to develop the proper diet for your body type, activity level, and health needs.

You’re more at risk of suffering from all types of malnutrition if you’re poor or low-income. Without access to nutritional foods, undernutrition occurs. Relying on fast foods that are high in calories, but low in nutritional value can lead to macronutrient overnutrition with micronutrient undernutrition.

“Children have greater nutritional needs than adults in order to grow and develop,” Cleveland says. “And as adults advance in age, their nutrition can deteriorate for several reasons, including reduced mobility, institutionalization, reduced appetite and reduced absorption of nutrients.”

Cleveland says that “the best way to prevent malnutrition is to eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of nutritious whole foods in it. If you have enough of all the nutrients your body needs, you will be less likely to overeat trying to satisfy those needs.”

The best advice I can give you is to shop the periphery of the supermarket – you know, produce, dairy, meat; and to carefully read the labels of any foods you pick up in the aisles. Remember, frozen and canned vegetables are picked at their prime and are full of good nutrients, and are often cheaper than fresh.

If the package says it will serve four, use your multiplication skills if you intend to eat the whole thing. And, even though French fries are potatoes, eat them judiciously, not just because of the fat, but because a teaspoon of ketchup has more sugar than a teaspoon of ice cream. RIP David.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at


Kathy Hubbard

Recent Headlines