Overfed and Undernourished: Nutrient Deficiency in Our Modern Diet

Many Americans’ diets are deficient in seven key nutrients. The reasons? Industrial agriculture’s push for high yields at the expense of nutrient density, plus a food industry conspiring to addict us to processed junk.


| June/July 2013


It’s a paradox of modern culture: Though more than a third of us are classified as overweight or obese, and though more than 3,700 calories of food are available daily for every person in the United States, many of us still don’t get enough of some essential nutrients, including potassium, calcium and vitamin D. This paradox, in which we are overfed and undernourished, is sometimes called nutrient deficiency.

In its latest update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that our average intake of some of these “nutrients of concern” is so low as to be a widespread public health issue. How is it that we eat so much, yet lack key nutrients?

The answer to that question is complex, encompassing everything from food distribution to the failings of industrial agriculture. One thing is clear: We now eat too much of the wrong kinds of food. We consume too many sugary soft drinks and fat-laden desserts and not enough nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, beans, and whole grains. As our waistlines expand, diet-related diseases and their associated costs grow along with them. Science has linked nutrient deficiencies to a variety of diseases and unhealthful conditions. For example, a recent study in Australia that compared five types of diets found a direct link between women who preferred nutrient-poor foods and increased osteoporosis and fractures, which indicates calcium deficiencies. Few consume the recommended daily amount of potassium — a nutrient that helps lower blood pressure — and one in three of us suffers from hypertension.

Increasing evidence shows that our consumption of fats, sugars and fluffy white foods contributes to the incidence of degenerative, age-related diseases such as cancer, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Biochemist Bruce Ames — who has won numerous prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Science — argues that widespread vitamin and mineral deficiencies in modern diets result in chromosomal damage that leads to cancer and accelerated aging.

Some of the harm from nutrient-poor diets can occur in the earliest stages of human development. A major new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that mothers who took a supplement of folic acid (the more stable, supplement form of folate) were 40 percent less likely to have a child later diagnosed with autism. A key finding in this study of more than 85,000 mothers was that the supplement has to be taken prior to conception. Folate contributes to prenatal brain and spinal development, and most of that development occurs during the first 28 days of pregnancy — before most women know they’re pregnant. So the researchers determined that women should begin taking folate even before becoming pregnant.

Shifting to Unhealthy Food Choices

If the solution to these problems seems obvious — eat more fruits and vegetables — why is it so difficult to achieve? According to pediatrician and former FDA commissioner David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating, we have been trained to prefer foods high in sugar and fat. Eating and the desire to eat release dopamine, a brain chemical associated with “reward” feelings, Kessler writes. He cites a study in which people tracked the food they ate and rated it for pleasure. They gave the highest ratings to foods high in fat and sugar. Unsurprisingly, they also ate more of them, consuming 44 percent more of the pleasure foods. Because we prefer foods high in fat and sugar, our spending on processed foods and sweets has nearly doubled — from 11.6 percent of our grocery budgets in 1982 to 22.9 percent in 2012 (see “We’re Spending Less on Meat, But Way More on Junk” in the Image Gallery).

Jason Pete
10/8/2013 5:00:43 AM

Its informative and helps the people to aware about their diet. Browse through our website at http://www.makemefertile.com for more details.


Really
8/20/2013 7:19:26 AM

http://www.hungryforchange.tv/ Worthwhile viewing. Did you know that the milk sold in schools has sugar added?


Mariel
7/19/2013 9:14:27 PM

Magnesium is the major mineral that is deficient. Most people get calcium in their diet. Selenium also depleted from soil. Please read up on Mg at mgwater.com and elsewhere. Needed in the body for hundreds of reactions every day. Can't make vitamin D without it.






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