Is a calorie just a calorie?
Obesity is one of the most visible problems in our country. But it may be masking another overarching chronic health problem – malnutrition.
In a country with so many choices, so much inexpensive food everywhere, and a McDonalds in every town big or small, why would we have to worry about malnutrition?
We pride food on being inexpensive and convenient above all else – above sustainability, above quality, and above nutritional content. As a result, the grocery aisles have become stuffed with packaged, processed foods designed for low cost and long shelf-life. Unfortunately, the nutritional value of these foods is often little to none. So while most Americans are certainly getting enough to eat, they are not consuming the nutrients that are essential for health. Nutrient deficiency-related diseases can happen to anyone – even an EcoWoman.
Everyone has a different diet, and risks for possible nutrient deficiencies. And women in particular face risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. Here are five common nutrient deficiencies in American women:
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D aids the auto-immune system – a deficiency may lead to increased susceptibility to colds and the flu. Vitamin D’s role with the immune system also helps prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes. More commonly known is vitamin D’s critical role in calcium absorption and in regulating the nervous system. Women have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis than men, so maintaining bone health is particularly important.
Calcium and Vitamin D go hand in hand in terms of bone health. Osteoporosis is one of the most common diseases among women – over half of women over the age of 45 are affected. The risks of osteoporosis are more deadly than one might think – bones degraded from osteoporosis causes about 250,000 hip fractures in the U.S. each year, resulting in a 20 percent risk of death.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Over 90% of Americans have too little Omega-3 Fatty Acids in their diet. As an essential component of the brain (60% of brain material is made from omega 3 fatty acids), a deficit can lead to learning disabilities, such as ADHD, or contribute to depression. It also may contribute to obesity or heart disease.
4. Folic Acid
Folic acid is extremely important for women that are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Folate helps protect against a number of embryonic malformations, including neural defects. Also, advanced folate deficiency can lead to anemia. And speaking of anemia…
For vegetarians, iron can be the biggest challenge. Iron-deficiency anemia causes extreme fatigue, dizziness, and an increased heart rate – so much so that it can be difficult to simply walk up a hill. And in the longer term, anemia can have severe impacts, leading to heart disease or heart attacks. The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world.
With all the research on the dangers of vitamin supplements, it is important – and increasingly difficult – to get these nutrients from natural sources. There are exceptions, of course – vegetarians might take iron supplements to ensure their iron stays at healthy levels and prevent anemia. But they should always be supplemented with the real thing – iron pills could be taken with quinoa, spinach, and lentils.
One thing to take away from this is that maintaining nutrient health is HARD. It can be very difficult to get all the nutrients you need in a natural way, without relying on a multivitamin. But there are experts that can help. Now, I’m no expert – just an EcoWoman trying to stay healthy. For a chance to learn from real experts, DC EcoWomen is hosting a workshop. Dr. Melissa Windsor and Dr. Karen Threlkel of the Restorative Health Center for Integrative Medicine will talk about why we’re malnourished, what the common deficiencies are, and how simple changes in your food choices can make a difference.
A calorie is NOT just a calorie. A nutrient-filled calorie means a whole lot more. In time, it could mean everything.
Learn more about the workshop “Overfed Yet Undernourished” and reserve your ticket.