Overdosing on empty calories: Obesity is now the new malnutrition

Image: Pixabay

The amount of people left undernourished has mushroomed in the Western world. The 2016 Global Nutrition Report revealed these are the same people, who would count as obese. For the first time in history, food availability has led to a global health crisis. Packing on little but empty calories, in the 21st century, obesity is the new malnutrition.

Asya Gadzheva spoke to Nicola Shubrook, a Woodford based nutritional therapist and qualified clinical hypnotherapist, about how malnutrition and obesity came to be, where, what and how it went wrong and the Western diet.

Image: Nicola Shubrook

“Generally, Western diets don’t have to be of low nutritional value if you choose to eat whole foods,” says Ms Shubrook. “However, for those who rely on foods that are processed, fried, junk or perhaps some takeaways, then these will be of low nutritional status.”

It fits too conveniently to blame it all on our hectic lifestyles and lack of time, or indeed, knowledge of how to cater for our own nutritional needs.

Malnutrition infesting Western societies is a result of making wrong food choices and getting steadily buried under piles of artificially substantial foods.

The wrong kind of diversity

A great deal of food availability today is deceptively diverse. Food manufacturing has greatly impacted availability, according to Ms Shubrook, while driving low prices and affecting the cost of essential ingredients such as vegetables. This has resulted in making the consumption of fresh and home cooked food out of some families’ reach.

“We have also fallen out of traditional ways of eating and so now expect certain foods, such as blueberries and broccoli, all year round which means importing them from abroad which again adds to the growing cost of food prices, and making it unaffordable for many in the Western world.”

Falling prey to the advertising industry, ever so keen to promote the miraculous qualities of certain foods, is all too easy in the world of fast and strenuous living.

“A lot of people in the Western world have high stress levels and are pressured for time, so grabbing these foods can often be convenient too, despite their lack of nutritional value.”

That is what is happening to us now. The Western world is in the grip of a global nutrition crisis.

Global nutrition down the drain

Imagine you are eating but digesting nothing: like constantly dumping food into a pitch-black well. You are never quite sure if it is full but feel you can always pack something more on top. That is hollow eating. The well will never fill unless you put something of good nutritional value down it.

At its core, hollow eating is a very contemporary problem with a shockingly recent topicality.

Globalisation and urbanisation changed the social and economic landscape of the world. Consequently, they altered people’s dietary and eating habits too.

Efforts to eradicate poverty and food deprivation have increased the overall quality of life worldwide. An unfortunate result, however, is the fact that people were allowed to abuse the convenience and diversity of foods and services available, thus endangering their health.

What Ms Shubrook refers to as a “’grab-and-go’ mentality,” enhanced by some people’s inexperience in the kitchen, represents a shift in the perceptions of food and eating in the modern world. Ones that are increasingly unbalanced and have become dangerously harmful to our health.

“An urban lifestyle is normally one of stress and not enough time which can make grabbing convenience or ready-made meals an easy option. We then get caught in a vicious circle.”

Imagine your rushed-up sandwich for lunch… High in carbohydrates and low in proteins, notes Ms Shubrook. It causes a sharp increase in blood sugar levels and a sudden burst of energy. But it wears off really quickly and the need to recharge and “feed the cycle again with some form of carbohydrates,” as the nutritional therapist puts it, looms large.

“This results in a carb roller-coaster of energy throughout the day which further fuels stress levels, but also the lack of nutrients in these carbohydrate foods, especially magnesium, which is our natural relaxer, compounds it even further.”

Urbanisation has marked most aspects of human life in the Western world, including how eating, food and nutrition are perceived. As more people moved into urban communities, living spaces became bigger and more densely populated. Food changed to suit their new lifestyles. The era of convenience culture had arrived.

“Even when we are busy, making the right food choices is actually even more critical than when we are not.”


A toxic coexistence

Where speed and convenience rule in the kitchen, obesity is caused by and comes under malnutrition. The amount of food consumed is worryingly unequal to its nutritional quality.

“There can be more than one reason as to why someone has gained weight, but for those who have gained significant weight because of their food choices they are likely to be undernourished too.”

The old debate about deceptively ‘healthy’ foods pops up yet again. For those of us striving to build a relatively healthy diet on what we adapt to be nutritionally beneficial products, it is a matter of continuously and persistently getting it wrong.

“They may be choosing ‘diet’, ‘low fat’ or ‘0% fat’ products which then contain either artificial sweeteners, which can disrupt the digestive system and affect our hunger hormone ghrelin, or they are naturally higher in sugar because the fat has been stripped out,” explains Ms Shubrook.

But falsely nutritional foods are only one side of the problem. There is still an abundance of products, which have managed to fool us both about our waistline and digestion.

Keeping track of the nutritional quality of our food is becoming increasingly harder. Image: Pixabay

It is breakfast that most commonly suffers at the hand of artificially ‘healthy’ foods. Think cereals, oats, granola bars, biscuits and muffins. Are you biting into bran, fruit, seeds and grains? Yes. But nutritionally, you might as well be eating a cake.

A decent sized regular muffin sold in cafes and bakeries can contain from 340 to 630 calories with 11 to 27 grams of fat plus sugar. Solid, if completely unnecessary, empty calories.

It is borderline criminal to claim you are too busy, too inexperienced or too overwhelmed to commit to a nutritious diet. Change can come a step at a time.

“Healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive,” says Ms Shubrook. “Simply adding more fruit and vegetables into the diet is a great way to start, or buying tins of beans and lentils and batch-cooking for the family.”

In our modern lives, smothered in stress and rush, it is ever more important to eat enough of the four basic food groups. Images: Pixabay | Production: BeFunky

Where there is a willingness, there is a way. But as with many things in life in general, procrastination can seriously affect our chances of success. We must seriously, quickly and wholeheartedly reconsider the ‘dumping well’ metaphor.

We are tirelessly dumping into a bottomless well. Sadly, we are using spoilt cargo and, much at our health’s expense, we are filling the entirely wrong well. For the first time in history, obesity and malnutrition are going down the same leaking drain and already, it has started to stink.

Words: Asya Gadzheva | Subbing: Amelia Walker-Hall

This article was updated on November 21st, in regard to availability of new and additional information.

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