Overfed, Undernourished

You cannot judge malnourishment by its cover—it comes in all body shapes and sizes. In fact, many overweight and obese people are actually malnourished. (1) This is the obesity paradox: overfed but undernourished. What are some side effects of malnourishment? What is the best way to tackle this problem?

A typical American diet consists of processed foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients. Processed foods are tasty, cheap, and readily available, but they do not carry enough of the nutrients required by our bodies to function well. Over 80 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D (2). The majority of Americans lack adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, many of our diets are deficient in plant-based nutrients, such as magnesium and vitamins A, C, and E, which are important for… (3)

Starving our bodies of necessary nutrients may lead to disease. A recent study published by Reuters Health reveals that half of the cancer patients involved in the study suffered from malnourishment. Over one-third of the cancer patients they studied were overweight or obese. Of those obese patients, 12 percent were malnourished, and 50 percent were at risk for malnourishment. “Malnutrition in cancer patients can increase the risk for infection, treatment toxicity and healthcare costs while decreasing treatment response, quality of life and life expectancy.” (4)

So what is the best way to nourish our bodies? The most nutrient-dense diet is a whole-food, plant-based diet. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains are bursting with nutrients and will provide the foundation for a well-nourished body. Not only are these foods high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and essential fatty acids, but they can also replace many triggers of chronic illness found in a typical daily diet, such as saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and toxic food additives.

Our bodies need nutrients to fight disease, but too many of us eat empty calories that do nothing but weigh our bodies down with extra pounds. God has given us a wonderful variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains that will help our bodies thrive, not just survive. So eat your medicine with a fork.


– Ellen Richards

Contributor, Renové Health

  1. Gillis L, Gillis A. Nutrient inadequacy in obese and non-obese youth. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2005 Winter; 66(4):237-42.
  2. Reis JP, et al. Vitamin D status and cardiometabolic risk factors in the United States adolescent population. Pediatrics. 2009 Aug 3.
  3. Compiled 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.
  4. Annals of Oncology, online October 30, 2014. bit.ly/11iHasH
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