malnourishment knows no shapes or sizes
We’re all well aware of the obesity epidemic in the developed world. Did you also know that right alongside the obesity we have a major issue of malnourishment?

malnourishment knows no shapes or sizes

We’re all well aware of the obesity epidemic in the developed world. Did you also know that right alongside the obesity we have a major issue of malnourishment? Though it may seem counter intuitive, obese adults and children are also nutritionally deficient.1 But it doesn’t stop there. Malnourishment can come in any body shape or size.

At first you may think that someone eating an excessive number of calories would be receiving all the nutrients his body needs. But that’s not the case. The issue is a consumption of “empty calories” to a dangerous level, consuming food packed with energy but lacking in vitamins and nutrients. And whether obese or skinny, outward appearances don’t tell the full story of the nutrient deficiency inside.

There’s plenty of food around, and we don’t have a problem with Americans finding enough to eat. But we’re eating the wrong types of food too frequently, or sometimes exclusively. The more processed food you eat, the more vitamins you need. Vitamins and minerals are what make metabolism work, aiding in the chemical reactions that fuel the body, including the regulation of sugar and using fat as an energy source.

The problem we’ve developed in Western styles of eating is packing a high number of calories in smaller and smaller packages while removing the fiber and nutrients needed to process those calories, as well as to signal the brain that we’re full. (See How We Got Fat – The Story of Too Much Energy in Packages Too Small) All of these empty calories confuse the metabolism and usually result in consistent weight gain. In the case of a weak digestive system, a person may stay skinny on the outside, but the inside tells a different story.

A Starved Society
Despite our overeating, more than 80% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D.2 Roughly 90% lack adequate levels of Omega 3 fats which are critical anti-inflammatories and also aide in managing blood sugar levels. And more than 30% of us eat diets that lack basic plant-derived nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, and magnesium.3

How did we get ourselves in this processed pickle?

A major contributor is the fact that processed foods are just so darn tasty and convenient. With their refined flours, high levels of sugar (or more commonly, high fructose corn syrup), and trans-fats, they’re super easy to pick up and eat when you’re busy, and yes, they’re cheap.

Because of their convenience, these food choices supplant the higher quality and nutrient dense foods that many see as more expensive and time consuming to prepare. But these marvels of modern food science combine ingredients in ways our body doesn’t recognize as food (primarily because most of those ingredients don’t qualify as food). We evolved eating foods that were drastically different, including the fact they were much higher in all nutrients.4

Even the quality of our meat has suffered. Most meat found at the grocery store includes hidden chemicals to process and preserve to enable a longer shelf life. It doesn’t compare to the wild game and naturally raised livestock our bodies recognize as food.

Depleted Soil
Even those who eat a diet full of fresh produce are often found lacking in critical nutrients. How can this be?

Modern farming methods simply do not replenish the soil with nutrients the way that has been done since humans developed agriculture. Conventional fertilizers only supply basic macro-nutrients to increase crop yields but do nothing to strengthen the soil.

The Journal of the American College of Nutrition published a study in 2004 using data from the USDA’s archives. The researchers examined the nutrient profile of 43 different vegetables and fruits grown in 1950 and compared them to the same plants grown in 1999.

Despite biotech’s claims of more abundant and nutritious food using their technology, not one single nutrient in those crops had increased during that 50 year time span. The study’s results showed vitamin C had decreased by 20%, calcium was down 16%, and iron had dropped 15%. Most crops grown today have fewer nutrients than those grown when our parents were kids.5

Our bodies are smart and will initiate cravings to get us to eat foods containing nutrients our body’s need. But with the decreased nutrition of our foods, both modern and traditional, our bodies may continue to prompt us to eat, looking for that nutrition they’re starving for. So people eat more and get fatter, but never feel satisfied, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Of course the lack of nutrition leads to more issues than weight gain. A weakened immune system can’t do its job, leading to increased cases of sickness ranging from colds and flus to autoimmune and other chronic conditions.

The Failed “Solution”
The government and food manufacturers have tried to deal with this by “enriching” the foods they’ve stripped of nutrients. Particularly in processed foods, ingredients are refined (whole wheat into white flour, brown rice into white, etc.) which reduces by fiber by up to 80% and decimates the levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.6 The manufacturers then add synthetic versions of those nutrients into their products and claim it to be as healthy, and sometimes they even say better, than the original plant.

As we’ve know for a long time now, isolated synthetic nutrients do not deliver the same value to the body as what those same nutrients do when eaten together in a whole food. It’s not the beta-carotene that makes a carrot healthy, it’s the carrot. It’s not the vitamin C that makes oranges good for us. It’s the orange. Don’t be tricked into thinking your body will benefit from processed foods that have been “enriched” in an attempt to be able to show a passing grade on the nutrition label on the box.

Now the question is, how do I make sure I’m getting enough nutrients?
– Though weakened, plants still reign supreme as the kings of nutrient providers compared to all other foods. Make plants the focus of your meals. Vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, and properly prepared7 whole grains and legumes are the foundation of any healthy diet. From basic vitamins and fiber, they also provide powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds your body uses to detoxify and repair.

– Consume modest amounts of animal protein. When it comes to meat, in terms of more healthy properties with fewer negatives such as inflammatory properties, think “the fewer the legs the better.” Small cold-water fish like sardines and anchovies are perfect choices since they don’t contain high levels of heavy metals and other contaminants. Other good choices are wild caught Alaska salmon, herring, mackerel, and trout. For land-based animals opt for grass fed and pastured meats (or even better, wild game) for their higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and omega-3 fats compared to their conventional meat alternatives.

– Fat is critical for health, and the best sources are plant-based fats in the form of avocados, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, hemp and flax. Avoid the modern industrial seed oils – vegetable oil, canola, soy, etc. – that offer inflammatory and rancid omega-6 fats. EDIT: In some cases like a nursing mother, very young children, or those with severe deficiencies or in a healing protocol, the rich animal fats (“sacred foods” as some call them) could be useful, but they’re certainly not necessary or ideal for sustained consumption. Sacred turns profane when over used.

Eat Your Medicine with a Fork
The best medicine is what you find at the end of your fork. Eating fresh, whole foods will provide your body the synergistic combination of nutrients your body needs to maintain optimal health. As I mentioned above, however, even the best diets can leave us deficient of critical nutrients. Most common are vitamin D and omega-3 deficiencies. If you spend most of your day inside an office or don’t eat fish at least twice a week, supplementing with high quality vitamin D and mercury free fish oil capsules is highly recommended.

Eating a diet full of nutrient packed calories will allow your body to maintain a healthy weight, neutralize free radicals, repair broken cells, man a fully armed immune system, and provide you the energy you want to accomplish all those lofty goals you’ve set for yourself. Show yourself some love. Eat for happy living.


1 Gillis L, Gillis A. Nutrient inadequacy in obese and non-obese youth. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2005 Winter;664:237-42.
2Reis JP, et al. Vitamin D status and cardiometabolic risk factors in the United States adolescent population. Pediatrics. 2009 Aug 3.
3Compiled by Dr. Gerald Combs, USDA, Agricultural Research Service ARS, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, as viewed in Linda Pollak and Philipp Simon, “Strategic Goal 5: Improve the Nation’s Nutrition and Health,” presentation at “Plant Breeding: A Vital Capacity for U.S. National Goals,” workshop, Raleigh, North Carolina, February 2007.
4Cordain L, et al.. Origin and evolution of the Western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 8 2:341-54. Review.
5Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999,” Journal of the CAN, vol23, no6
6 Jonnalagadda SS, et al. Putting the whole grain puzzle together: Health benefits associated with whole grains—summary of the American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. The Journal of Nutrition. 2011 March 30
7 Soaking or fermenting grains and legumes removes phytic acid, an enzyme inhibitor that makes their nutrients inaccessible until the seed is ready to germinate.


8 thoughts on “Overfed and Undernourished – Modern Foods and Famine in a Land of Plenty

  1. How can you go from stating that most Americans are deficient in vitamin D to advising us to eat a plant-focused diet? Where are we supposed to get this essential nutrient? It only comes from the fat of animals that spend the entire day outdoors. Most animals consumed in the US do not do this. Lard was once a prized source of vitamin D; nowadays, pigs are raised exclusively indoors. The only time they see the sun is when they’re trucked to the processing plant. No wonder we don’t get enough vitamin D. As for the other nutrients you mention, they are also most abundant in animal products. Especially vitamin C, found in the adrenal gland of ruminants. But we don’t eat weird stuff like that anymore. We can barely handle chicken with a bone in it. Your article has good facts but draws poor conclusions.

    1. I can’t tell but it seems as if you’re saying the animal foods should be eaten in exclusion of plants. Am I understanding that right?
      You can get vitamin D from twenty minutes a day in the sun at lunch time or a quality supplement. It’s not difficult once someone is made aware of the need. You’re right, some organ meats are high in vitamin D as is cod liver oil. Organ meats are great for Eskimos and nursing mothers. There is simply no argument that any non-Arctic healthy diet should not be based primarily on vegetables. There’s no conclusion made that meat should be avoided. But there are certainly more micronutrients in plants than animal proteins, and only upside with none of the downside that comes with animal products. Lard was prized when 60 was considered a long life. Plants cannot be over consumed. Meat can. Acerola, camu camu, rose hip, red peppers, kiwi, broccoli, brussels sprouts and many others all dwarf meat sources of vitamin C. If you’ve found the animal fats to be helpful in your family’s current healing protocol, that’s fantastic. Use them. But if you use them while neglecting the amazing nutritive and restorative powers of plants you’ll see slower progress now and set yourself up for unpleasant consequences later.

      1. If you can get vitamin D that easily, WHY are so many people still deficient? I am convinced it’s because IF people eat animal products nowadays, they are coming from animals that are deficient themselves. What if everyone raised a few chickens that lived outside and they ate the eggs daily? I wonder if that would dramatically change the vitamin D situation in the US.

        As for the omega-3 issue, my answer is similar. Why not eat animals that are raised on grasses so they can harvest the perfect balance of fatty acids for us? Omega-3’s come from green grasses and are created by ruminant animals in their complex digestive systems. Why should we have to ship in Arctic salmon or factory-made fish oil pills to be “healthy”? If food is medicine, shouldn’t the food LOOK less like medicine and MORE like food? Shouldn’t we be able to grow it ourselves and harvest it locally? A pill is not a food and your body won’t receive it like a food. It has no texture and requires no chewing nor tasting. It lacks the other components that would naturally come with the food (in the case of vitamin D, there is always cholesterol; in the case of Omega-3, there are other more stable fatty acids that prevent rancidity of this delicate oil.)

        There are lots of arguments for non-veggie diets. What about those with compromised digestion? Growing children? Elderly? I’m not saying vegetables are bad, but they don’t hold a candle to the nutrients in well-raised meats, bones, and fat. If well-raised meat is consumed with the whole animal in mind (i.e. not just lean protein, but bone broth and fat included in the meal, too), it is quite digestible and satisfying, and you eat far fewer calories and don’t get hungry as often as compared with a plant-based diet. I’m sure we’ll never agree, but your article has a few strongly conflicting points and draws a very poor conclusion when the answer is as plain as day–if one is deficient in fat-soluble nutrients, one should eat fat that contains those nutrients.

        1. Oh my goodness. Jerica you need to expand your reading. You’ve gotten only a fraction of the story and there are so many things to correct in your statement that I’ll turn it into an article to discuss. There’s a little truth mixed in with a whole lot of misunderstanding. Honestly I’m flabbergasted.

          1. Well, I’ll read it, but I’m pretty convinced that animal fats are where it’s at. My husband is cured of ulcerative colitis because of well-raised animal products. We eat limited vegetables (cooked and fermented when we do) and our health has improved tremendously over the past few years. I’ve had joint problems and minor digestive problems my whole life that I thought were “normal,” but after starting a mineral-intensive diet, those issues are totally gone and I went from what I considered healthy to rarely getting sick anymore, no joint issues, no tooth problems, no gut problems, etc. Have you ever read any of Dr. Weston Price’s work? Or Pottenger or Stefannson?

          2. Thanks Jerica. Animals fats certainly have their place and I know they can be helpful in particular situations. The fact that you and your husband have overcome those health struggles is fantastic, and a good example of that. Those are referred to as “sacred food” for a reason, but sanctity is lost when it becomes common place.
            Yes, I’m familiar with Price and the WAPF, Sally Fallon and the Nourishing Traditions teachings. Not familiar with the other two. When I see people who turn solely to those very rich animal fats and limit vegetables for extended periods of time, I see heavy, inflamed physiques, not ones that look like they’re at the top of their health and fitness levels. Eskimos weren’t skinny; their environment demanded otherwise, but they sure got plenty of exercise. That doesn’t generally accompany the WAPF lifestyle, and we’re not living in igloos.
            Yes, lots of vegetables need to be cooked. And there are lots that are appropriate raw. Fermented is best. Why one would limit vegetables and see them as detrimental is perplexing. Eating several servings of fermented vegetables, or any vegetables for that matter, every day would rock most people’s worlds for the better. You can’t eat too much. Eat too much animal fat for sustained periods of time, without the accompanying physical and environmental demands, just like going crazy with nut butters or other plant fats, people can get into trouble. When inflammation is showing up on the outside it’s only a reflection of what’s going on inside.

            All that said, any diet is better than the standard Western diet and people can find healing through any other path they choose when leaving the conventional eating patterns. The question is then what to eat long term, and it’s obviously a personal decision and different for each body’s needs.

          3. At our house, we tend to eat according to what the animal produces. So a good amount of protein, a fair amount of fat, and a fair amount of bone. And it’s balanced by seasonal, local vegetables. We’ve been eating this kind of food for around 7 years and have only experienced improvement. But we also have a very active lifestyle (we’re farmers), which I would argue is also essential to good health. In other words, eating fat may require a person to be more active (though I would say the same thing about a lot of carbs), but I would also argue that a sedentary lifestyle is just as unhealthy as an imbalanced diet.

            Of course a vegetable-based diet is healthier than a processed food diet. But I don’t stop there. I believe to attain ultimate health you need some (albeit not a lot) of excellent quality animal products. And in saying that, I don’t think vegetables should be limited, but I definitely don’t agree with eating salads year-round and consuming vegetables grown thousands of miles away that aren’t even in season in our hemisphere and calling that “healthy.” You can go too far with anything, as you alluded to–some people read that almonds are healthy and they start making almond milk, almond bread, almond cereal, almond snacks, etc. Balance and realistic, sustainable food production is what we need. And to look at it from a holistic standpoint, you must consider seasonal production, fertilizer requirements, etc. Animals are a necessary part of the picture.

          4. Beautiful. Ok, I think we’re actually on the exact same page and saying the same things, we were just talking past each other. I agree with everything you just wrote, completely. Seasonal, local, active, all natural foods in balance, with an active lifestyle. Can’t go wrong with that.

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