Monday, July 11, 2011

Obesity - An Epidemic of Malnutrition ?

Processed food, is it really food?
Image credit by Danielle Scott
Everyone is talking about the epidemic of obesity, but is that really the issue? Perhaps what we should be talking about is the epidemic of malnutrition. Malnutrition is increasingly being observed in association with obesity. Is a diet consisting primarily of processed, yet supposedly “enriched” foods providing us with sufficient nutrition, and at what cost?

In countries like the United States, where “food” has become plentiful, most people take for granted that vitamin and other nutritional deficiencies are not a major concern. The problem is, most of the “food” that we eat on a daily basis would not even be recognized by our ancestors as originating from familiar edible sources such as plants or animals.

The USDA Community Nutrition Mapping Project (CNMap) demonstrates clearly how many Americans generally do not meet the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for even basic Vitamins and Minerals. Some people consider even the government’s RDI values to be lower than necessary for optimum health. Given this situation, it is clear that Americans, in general, are undernourished.

It’s not really a big surprise; a human being can only eat so much food in a day. Getting the nutrients that you need to be healthy and allow your body to carry out the myriad functions it requires is supremely important. However, you can’t just eat more and more food after you’re full, so it’s important that you eat things that are nutrient rich. Processed foods lose a lot of nutritional value due to the techniques used (e.g. polishing of grains, high temperature, pressure cooking and extrusion, etc.) in their manufacture. At a certain point, you simply cannot eat enough of the processed foods to intake enough of the vitamins and minerals your body requires.

As early as 1971 in an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers were well aware that processed foods would not supply adequate nutrition:

“It is apparent that raw foods supply adequate amounts of all the micro-nutrients here considered. It is not apparent, however, that persons subsisting on refined, processed, and canned foods will be provided with adequate amounts, and intakes make be marginal for those receiving reducing diets and for older persons whose caloric intakes are limited.”

Modern food processing techniques add flavor (artificial and “natural”) or bulk (in the form of calories) to foods. While this is beneficial to companies that sell food products, it comes at the expense of nutritional value. Eating real foods with little or no processing allows you to get much more nutrition. In addition, you get the added benefit of not consuming wave after wave of empty (no nutritional value other than energy) calories.

If you are starving your body of nutrients, how could you not crave more “food” in search of those missing vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, satisfying your cravings with more processed foods is more likely to increase your waist size than increase your body’s store of needed nutrients.


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Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.

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