Malnutrition occurs when there is a lack of necessary nutrients. It is often associated with starvation, but it is now evident that malnutrition applies to overeating as well as undereating. It is possible for a person to become overweight while also failing to get important nutrients.
Macronutrients, micronutrients, and empty calories
The macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) provide the body with calories for energy. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals necessary for health, but they do not provide calories. Empty calories is a term often used for foods which contain excess calories with little nutritional value (soda and junk foods). When these empty calorie foods make up a large part of the diet, you can gain weight without getting all of the nutrients you need.
Quantity versus quality
When we are hungry, we seek out food. But what and how much we eat is influenced by many factors, including time, convenience, environment, culture, and knowledge. The desire to satisfy our hunger often trumps a desire to make healthy food choices. When you choose quantity and convenience over food quality, you risk consuming empty calories.
Nutrients of concern
Many diets poor in nutrition do not provide adequate calcium. Those who consume sweetened soda often drink them in place of calcium-rich milk. Dark, leafy greens and broccoli are sources for dietary calcium, but vegetables are another major food group that are often missing in poor diets.
The chemicals in plant foods (phytonutrients) are not essential to life, but they have numerous health benefits, including protection against disease. A diet of highly processed foods with few fresh fruits, vegetables, or whole grains can be in short supply of these beneficial plant nutrients.
Malnutrition can affect anyone
Foods composed of empty calories tend to be cheap and quick. This makes low-income populations and those with busy lifestyles especially vulnerable to this “overweight and malnourished” phenomenon. The trick is to plan your meals in advance, which will help you keep your food costs down and help you avoid needing to grab something quick when on the go.
Grilling fruits and vegetables creates delicious flavors by caramelizing the natural sugars. The following tips will help you get the most out of your fresh produce while keeping your meal healthy.
Flavor without fat and sodium.
Skip the butter and salt, and use marinades to flavor grilled vegetables. Oil and vinegar can be seasoned with herbs such as rosemary, basil, oregano, or thyme. Wine, salsas, and tangy marinades like pineapple, orange, lemon, or lime juice provide a tasty alternative. Marinate the vegetables for 30 minutes before grilling. To speed things up, you can also brush on the marinade right before putting them on grill, and again just before they are done cooking.
Easy on the oil.
Vegetables need oil to prevent sticking on the grill, but don’t go overboard. Remember there are 120 calories in each tablespoon of olive oil. Brush or spray them lightly just until coated.
Place these veggies right on the grill.
Slice bell peppers in half and remove the ribs. Cut eggplants, summer squash, and onions in slices about a ½ inch thick. Place these vegetables directly on the grill for about 10 - 15 minutes, flipping halfway through. Trim stems from asparagus and place the spears perpendicular to the grate so they don’t fall through. The spears will be ready in about 10 minutes.
Skewers for small vegetables.
Skewers are a good option for vegetables that are too small to place directly on the grill such as cherry tomatoes, small hot peppers, and button mushrooms. Place skewers of vegetables on the grill, perpendicular to the grate, for 10 to 15 minutes. Flip 3 to 4 times during grilling for even cooking.
Packets for easy clean up.
Chopped summer squash, onion, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, and corn cut off the cob can be grilled in packets made from tin foil. Drizzle your packet fillings lightly with olive oil and add your favorite fresh or dried herbs. Fold over the edges to seal and grill over medium heat about 20 -30 minutes. Keep in mind that raw potatoes and carrots may take longer to cook so cut them in smaller pieces, or put them in their own packet and add them to other vegetables after they are done cooking.
More options for healthy eating.
Vegetables are delicious straight from the grill, but they can also be used in other dishes. Chop grilled vegetables and add to whole wheat pasta or quinoa. Use them as a taco filling, omelet filling, or pizza topping.
Vitamin and mineral supplements should add to a nutritious diet, not replace healthy foods all together. Here are a few reasons you should avoid depending on pills and powders for your nutrient intake.
We don’t know it all.
Researchers have not identified all the active components in food. New, beneficial phytochemicals are being discovered every day. When you replace whole foods with supplements, you miss out on those food components that are benefiting your health, but that are not yet fully understood.
Too much of a good thing.
Recommended healthy ranges for nutrient intake are based on what research tells us the body needs to function at its best. Consuming vitamins and minerals beyond what the body needs will not increase your energy or increase your protection against disease. High doses of individual nutrients, especially fat soluble vitamins and minerals, may exceed safe levels of intake and cause toxicity.
Added nutrients don’t always provide the same benefit.
In addition to pills and powders, some supplements are used to fortify or enrich foods. Foods with added fiber are a good example. There is reason to believe that fiber found naturally in food is superior to that added during processing. In a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers found that when given a bar high in added fiber (10 grams), subjects reported no effect on fullness, but did report increased gas and bloating when compared to a low fiber bar.
Few nutrients act alone.
Nutrients naturally occur in a complex combination and often rely on reactions of other food components to function properly. For example, the role of vitamin D and calcium are closely related, as well as the role of folate and vitamin B12. Ingesting high doses of one vitamin or mineral may cause an imbalance. Eating a variety of whole foods provides a better balance of nutrients so that each can perform its function.
Dietary supplements are regulated like foods.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) defines a dietary supplement as any product in pill, powder, or liquid form that is meant to supplement the diet, such as a vitamin, mineral, herb, botanical, or amino acid. The regulation of dietary supplements falls under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but in the U.S. they are regulated like a food, and not a drug. This means that FDA approval is not required before they are sold to the public. As a result, the purity of the products and dose recommendations are not required to undergo the same rigorous scientific testing as a drug before becoming available to the public.
While most professionals recommend getting nutrients from healthy foods versus supplements, there are conditions and stages in life when supplementation may be necessary. Some examples include:
Women of child-bearing age.
Women who are pregnant or breast feeding.
Those diagnosed with nutrient deficiencies or conditions that reduce nutrient absorption.
Talk with your doctor if you fall into these categories. He or she can help you determine the correct supplements and doses for your specific needs.
Nutrition professionals recommend that snacks contain about 200 calories. Combining complex carbohydrates and heart-healthy fat with protein gives snacks the staying power to keep you energized. A great way to create a balanced snack is to pick a healthy food and pair it with nutrient-packed dips or toppings. Below are a few examples of healthy dippers and spreads or toppings to enjoy with them.
Whole Wheat Crackers (no trans-fats)
2 large stalks
Green/Red/Yellow Bell Pepper Strips
18 - 23
Whole Wheat Pita Chips
Sliced Apples or Pears
80 - 100
Whole Wheat Tortilla
Spreads / Toppings
Low-fat Plain Yogurt mixed with Salsa
Low-fat Yogurt (plain or mixed with fruit)
Natural Peanut Butter (no trans-fat)
50 - 90
Unsweetened Apple Sauce
Low-fat Cottage Cheese
Note: Calories are provided as an estimate and will vary slightly by brand.
Trans fatty acids are formed when oils are exposed to high heat and high pressure in the presence of hydrogen gas, a process called hydrogenation. This makes an unsaturated fat more solid at room temperature, which extends its shelf life and improves texture in processed foods.
Are trans fatty acids unhealthy?
It was once thought that these fats were better than saturated fats because they were unsaturated. We now know that trans fats increase LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and they decrease HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), a dangerous combination that increases risk for heart disease.
What foods contain trans fatty acids?
Trans fat can be identified in foods as partially hydrogenated oils. Any product that lists partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredients list will contain trans fatty acids. The good news is that due to increased awareness and nutrition labeling laws, fewer foods contain trans fat, and intake has decreased in recent years.
Fried foods (French fries, fish sticks, fried chicken)
Margarine and vegetable shortenings
Chips and crackers
The FDA is requiring all food manufacturers to remove artificial trans fats from their products by 2018. However, products with naturally occurring trans fats (like some cheeses and meats) will continue to be permitted.
How much trans fat can I eat?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that trans fat intake be as low as possible. The American Heart Association recommends that trans fat be 1% or less of your total daily calorie intake.
Should I rely on food labels for trans fat information?
Since 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required food manufacturers to list trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label. Unfortunately, if the food contains fewer than 0.5 grams per serving, the FDA allows manufacturers to say that the item contains 0 grams of trans fat. These small amounts that slip through the cracks add up. The only way to play it safe is to read the ingredients and exclude foods that contain hydrogenated oils. Better yet, choose minimally processed foods for the bulk of your diet, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and cereals, beans and legumes, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and nuts and seeds.