For most people, malnutrition means television images of emaciated Third World figures. But malnutrition doesn’t just occur from an acute lack of calories that can kill within weeks. It is also caused by a chronic depletion of `micro-nutrients’ such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and dietary fibre.
There may be no obvious short-term effects, but these deficiencies can leave a legacy of lasting ill health and lead to premature death. Various activities or conditions can either increase our requirements for these vitamins and minerals or reduce the body’s ability to absorb them from food. So are you at risk?
- ?Dieters should be aware that when food intake is reduced, the intake of micro-nutrients is also reduced. Yet the body’s requirements for certain vitamins and minerals may actually increase during periods of weight loss. Vegans and vegetarians should plan their diet carefully and are particularly at risk of deficiency in Vitamins D and B12.
- Drinking and smoking can lead to malnutrition. Each cigarette uses up large amounts of Vitamin C and other anti-oxidants which is one reason why smokers are more vulnerable to heart disease and cancer. Too much alcohol depletes the body of B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and calcium.
- Women are especially prone to nutrient deficiency. Oral contraceptives are though to increase the need for folic acid, Vitamins B and C and zinc, Pregnancy and breast feeding increase the need for B complex vitamins, folic acid, Vitamins A, D and probably E and minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium. Post-menopausal women need more calcium, magnesium and other minerals to save their bones as well as Vitamins A, D, C, B, E and K. Other vegetable-derived compounds are important, too.
- General lifestyle factors can also cause depletion of essential vitamins and minerals. Sun-worshipers use up anti-oxidants. Taking Vitamins A, C and E and increasing carotenoid and flavonoid intake better protects skin against the aging effects of ultra-violet radiation.
- Accidents, illness and surgery all increase the need for vitamins and minerals, including calcium, zinc and magnesium as well as vitamins A, B, C and E.
- Even keep-fitness fanatics could be malnourished. Heavy exercise burns more oxygen and, therefore, increases the requirements for anti-oxidants. Large quantities of zinc and other minerals can be lost through perspiration and need to be replaced.