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.