The Misconception of Malnutrition

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Tom Hildebrandt

There’s a mainstream misconception that someone who’s overweight can’t also be malnourished. The truth is that many people struggling with obesity are not fueling their bodies with the vitamins and minerals they need. According to the World Health Organization, 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese, 462 million are underweight, and the term malnourished applies to both groups. 

It’s no surprise that the main culprit of this widespread malnutrition is processed foods. Why? They’ve had all the natural vitamins and minerals zapped out of them. Most efficient and economical choices have a high calorie count, but lack high nutritional density. As a result, it’s easy to consume a lot of calories without absorbing any of the crucial building blocks our bodies need to function and flourish. 

Our bodies are a balance of hormones, chemicals, and bacteria that all rely on one another to properly function—a harmonious micro ecosystem working in unison. When we don’t eat the right foods, with the right nutrients, our gut balance becomes out of whack and affects this ecosystem.. 

Interestingly, weight gain (and loss) is dictated by gut health. If we lose enough of the good bacteria that keeps the gut in balance, it manifests itself in slower metabolism and unbalanced hormones, and consequently nutrient absorption suffers and we experience cravings.

This toxic cycle quickly feeds itself and is hard to end. The way to break it is to eat foods with a high nutritional content (not just calories or mass). This helps the gut stay healthier by maintaining the right balance of microorganisms that affect mental and physical health as well as immunity. Generally speaking, it’s pretty easy to get enough calories, but it requires conscientious decision-making to make sure you’re getting enough protein, fiber, heart-healthy fats, and other nutrients. 

Research has linked poor nutrition to serious health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. It can be particularly dangerous for children, who may suffer not only from the physical side effects of obesity, but also be more prone to psychological issues such as low self-esteem and depression as a result. When we feed our body processed food with refined carbohydrates and sugar, it affects our ability to focus and perform at work or school. Our brain is like a finely-tuned engine—and it needs the right fuel to function efficiently.  

The best place to start is by eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, fiber-rich whole grains, and healthy fats. If your little ones aren’t fans of fruits and veggies, there are lots of ways to sneak them into their diet in ways that they might not notice—and maybe even enjoy. 

For example, try putting bell peppers into their cheese quesadilla, or serve up foods that are more fun to eat, like corn-on-the-cob, or ants on a log (celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins). You can even make eating healthy foods a fun activity by making a smoothie together. Because who doesn’t love a good smoothie? 

Cutting out soda and replacing it with a refreshing flavored seltzer water is also a great way to cut calories and sugar from your diet. You can make it more fun for the kids (and you!) by chopping up fruits,adding them to seltzer, and pouring over ice

And, of course, resisting the urge to eat sweets, either for dessert or as a snack, is a surefire (though admittedly sometimes difficult) way to cut out calories. An effective way to do this is to place a Sugarbreak Resist strip on your tongue. The strip works by blocking sugar receptors until the craving passes, letting you go about your business without the nagging sensation for a sweet.  

There are no quick fixes here. It really all comes down to making intentional, consistent lifestyle choices that include eating the right foods and getting plenty of exercise alongside any supplements that power optimal health. Focusing on and prioritizing daily habits such as self-care, mindfulness, and getting enough sleep play an important role in living a healthier, longer life. There’s no time like the present to start taking control of you and your family’s health.