With the bountiful availability of food in our great nation, it is hard to believe that people who are well off can become malnourished, despite eating at least three meals a day. This problem is not developing due to the quantity of food we are eating, but the quality, as most people have poor-quality diets lacking diversity.
It can be easy to fall into a routine of eating the same foods day-in and day-out, and more often than not, these foods are processed and devoid of nutrients. A new paper from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis suggests that it is only in recent history we are suffering from malnutrition, despite having food at our fingertips.
“Earlier diets were highly diverse and nutrient dense, in contrast to modern food systems in which monotonous diets of staple cereals and ultra-processed foods play a more prominent role,” wrote Lora Iannotti, associate professor and senior author of the paper.
Malnutrition is often a word used to describe people who don’t have access to food as they don’t get enough calories, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, or minerals needed to sustain good health. This can have negative effects on the body, as it needs a balance of all these components.
The paper describes a concept called “genome-nutrition divergence,” where a misalignment of modern diets and our human genome has occurred over time. Over a period of 2.3 million years, humans have adapted to high-quality diets ripe with diverse kinds of foods.
The author of the study calls for us to realign our eating habits, falling in line with how our ancestors ate not too long ago before fast food.
In particular, she goes on to say that we need to focus on higher quality diets emphasizing altered macronutrient ratios (lower percentages of carbohydrates, in particular) and higher concentrations of a variety of micronutrients.
“[This review shows that] ultra-processed foods, in particular products made from substances extracted from whole foods, particularly oils, flours, and sugar, were not part of evolutionary diets and may be the main driver of malnutrition across most current food environments,” wrote Iannotti.
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