Malnutrition often conjures depressing images of starving citizens in third-world countries, yet the most common and insidious form of malnutrition is not a lack of calories but a lack of nutrients.  Food contains calories as a basic measure of energy but it’s nutrients that really rule the roost.  Vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and a whole host of secondary plant compounds are the key building blocks which shape and maintain our mind-body.  Our ancestors, in their wisdom, sought out the most nutrient-dense foods to nourish themselves.  They were looking to obtain the most nutrients per calorie possible.  The stark contrast to this is the consumption of most processed and refined foods which offer a minimum, or at worst, no nutrients per calorie, thus earning them the notorious title of “empty calories”.

With the increase of these nutritionally devoid convenience foods in our diet it has now become possible to be malnourished, indeed starve the body on an empty stomach.  Given the long timeline in which modern malnutrition takes its toll on our body (often decades for most of us) we are not as quick to point to nutrient depletion as being a fundamental cause of disease.  Our bodies are forgiving and versatile in how they can maintain homeostasis in the absence of a few key nutrients, but it comes at a cost to our overall health and vitality, the end result being a weakened body that leaves us susceptible to toxicity and infections, two other fundamental causes of disease.

A holistic medical practitioner can well assume that nearly every patient that enters his or her office is suffering from some level of malnutrition and, following the example of our ancestors, offer dietary change or a nutritional supplement to correct this deficiency. 

The most common and rampant form of malnutrition that we face is a loss of minerals in our soils.  As early as 1936, U.S. Senate Document #264 discusses the health challenges that were coming from a then recognized depletion of minerals from our soils.  Modern industrial farming practices have only served to further deplete and erode the soil as valuable soluble mineral are washed away.  Further supporting evidence shows the loss of nutrients that ensues when hybridized fruit and vegetable varieties are chosen for increased yield and shelf life to the exclusion of the heirloom varieties that are richer in nutrients and taste.  This represents not only a loss of nutrients but also a dying of plant diversity as older varieties are lost to time.

It all sounds grim but there is a way forward which we will explore in future posts.  For our next installment, however, we need to tackle the next big cause of disease – infections.  Feel free to leave your comments below and thanks for reading.

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