Written by Samantha Walter-Cano, Edited by Yvonne Florian
March is officially National Nutrition Month! What is nutrition and why is it so important? According to the encyclopedia Britannica, “nutrition is the assimilation by living organisms of food materials that enable them to grow, maintain themselves, and reproduce.” Food does not only keep us alive by providing us with energy but affects our health as well. The kind of food we eat can heavily affect our health; thus, why good nutrition is so important.
A Brief History of Nutrition Awareness
While diet and nutrition beliefs have been around for centuries, the science behind them is a relatively “new” science. The first vitamin discovered was isolated and defined in 1926. The rest of today’s known vitamins would be discovered years later. Following shortly was the discovery of the diseases caused by deficiencies of these vitamins. For example, scientists learned through centuries of observation that vitamin deficiencies lead to certain diseases such as scurvy and pellagra. The most recent studies of the 21st century show relationships between nutrition and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Malnutrition Around the World
These collective gains in nutritional knowledge still do not translate into good nutrition for all. Malnutrition is still present in all countries throughout the world. Why is this? Malnutrition is defined as a condition due to deficiencies or excesses of nutrient intake. An excess of nutrition is known as over-nourishment. while a deficiency of nutrients is known as undernourishment. Places such as third world countries suffer with malnourishment, while here in the US, most malnourished individuals are over nourished.
Undernourishment causes wasting, stunting, serve weight loss, and specific nutrient deficiencies. Wasting is known as low weight for height. Stunting is low height for weight. A child that is underweight may be both at the same time. According to Action Against Hunger, world hunger is on the rise. Over 14 million children suffer from severe acute malnourishment, and approximately 45% of child deaths worldwide are from hunger and related causes. Learn more about nutrition and global hunger at: Action Against Hunger | Ending World Hunger & Malnutrition
Over-nourishment is often associated with being overweight. In 2019, the World Health Organization estimated that about 38.2 million children under the age of 5 were obese or overweight. In 2016, approximately 1.9 billion adults aged 18 or older were overweight. Being overweight can increase the risk for diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Why Is Malnutrition So Common?
Malnutrition is common because, unfortunately, many do not have access to, or the finances for, healthy food. In developed countries, malnutrition can be common because things such as fast food are available at a lower price point, becoming a common option for many low-income families. This, however, can lead to a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. It is very possible to be overweight and malnourished at the same time. Diets high in sugar and fat can cause weight gain, while getting inadequate amounts of nutrients at the same time.
In Third World countries, malnutrition associated with low weight is more common. This is because many poverty-ridden communities do not have access to fruits or vegetables or even a grocery store.
Many times, diets are high in grain and starchy foods such as rice, corn and wheat. This makes it possible to suffer from nutrient deficient diseases such as beriberi, a disease from lack of B1 vitamins.
Malnutrition is a global health problem and is something we can work towards eradicating. More information about malnutrition and what can be done can be found on: https://www.actionagainsthunger.org/. You can learn more about CDC’s work, as well as global initiatives, and research being done at: https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/micronutrient-malnutrition/projects/ .
What Can Be Done About Your Own Nutrition?
Another common reason for poor nutrition can be a lack of awareness. Many people have an idea of
what “eating healthy” means, but do not know where to start. Learning how to read a nutritional label can be a great start to understanding nutrition. A great resource is https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label.
There are simple steps you can take to improve your nutrition. There are also many resources that show you how to start, as well as what a plate of food should consist of. One of these resources is https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/family-resources/healthy-living/eating-well/. This source includes manCut Added Sugars
Some Basic Steps for Improving Your Nutrition:
- Cut Added Sugars Consuming less added sugar can make a big difference in your health. According to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from added sugars. For reference, If you consume 2000 calories per day, this means not more than 200 calories should come from added sugars. This is the equivalent of one candy bar OR one 12 oz. can of soda.Added sugars are usually found in products such as soft drinks, as well as sweets, some cereals and flavored yogurt. It is important to read your nutritional label to learn how much added sugar is found in products. Instead of products such as flavored yogurts and cereals, consider getting plain, and instead use fresh fruits as toppings. For canned fruit, purchase products packed in fruit juice instead of heavy syrup.
- Switch to Lean Protein For your meat protein consumption, consider leaner options such as chicken and fish. Instead of frying try to roast, bake, poach, or grill your protein. There are many delicious recipes out there!
- Fats and Oils Although fats may have a bad reputation, the right kinds of fat are vital for your health. Try to limit consumption of saturated fats and avoid consumption of trans fats such as hydrogenated vegetable oils. Instead, consume more unsaturated fats such as your polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Some good examples of unsaturated fats are fish, walnuts, olive oil, and avocados.
- Carbohydrates- “Carbs” Carbs are our main source of energy! Whole fresh fruits, vegetables, and grain are carbohydrates which are loaded with fiber and starch for quick energy. Brown Rice, whole wheat, rye, barley, oats, and millet are all fiber rich whole grains. Try making small changes like eating brown rice instead of white rice all the time. Quinoa and buckwheat, though not technically grains, are high in fiber and protein and make excellent substitutions for white rice or commercial pasta.
Eating Healthy Can Be Fun
Finally, eating healthy can be fun. Moderation is important, but that doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to ice cream occasionally! Eating food should be something you enjoy doing, and not boring at all! Even simple things such as cooking with olive oil instead of shortening can make a great difference.
Action against hunger. (n.d.). Retrieved March 4, 2023, from https://apply.workable.com/action-against-hunger/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, May 17). Childhood obesity facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 4, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html
Mozaffarian, D., Rosenberg, I., & Uauy, R. (2018, June 13). History of modern nutrition science-implications for current research, dietary guidelines, and food policy. The BMJ. Retrieved March 4, 2023, from https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2392
Roser, M., & Ritchie, H. (2019, October 8). Hunger and undernourishment. Our World in Data. Retrieved March 4, 2023, from https://ourworldindata.org/hunger-and-undernourishment#citation
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Fact sheets – malnutrition. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 4, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/malnutrition
World Health Organization. (2019, September 6). Infographics on double burden of malnutrition. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 4, 2023, from https://apps.who.int/nutrition/double-burden-malnutrition/infographics/en/index.html