“Overfed and undernourished” is the diagnosis that people in the nutrition space, such as Duffy MacKay, senior vice president of science and regulatory affairs of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), call this phenomenon.
“This means some people have access to calories, but they’re not rich in nutrients and they end up with these hidden deficiencies,” he told NutraIngredients-USA.
A prime example is an increasing number of reports of a recurrence of the ancient vitamin C deficiency disease scurvy. At one time scurvy was noted among sailors, as better navigation techniques and better ships allowed longer cross ocean voyages, so seamen subsisted for long periods on a diet of salt meat, hard tack and dried peas that was almost entirely devoid of the essential nutrient. So low is the vitamin C intake required to prevent this disease that doctors in Massachusetts didn’t even think of diagnosing it at first, an article in Slate reported.
The populations affected, unsurprisingly, skew more towards individuals and households hovering around the US poverty line, living in neighborhoods deemed food deserts, and/or dealing with mental illness.
Is there animal in that? Deficiencies from lifestyle choices like veganism
Income inequality aside, MacKay also mentioned that a lot of deficiencies and malnourishment in developed countries today come from lifestyle choices.
“When you throw in any unique food choices, likes and dislikes, choices to be vegetarian or vegan, religious choices—it becomes even more complicated to get nutrients from food alone,” Mackay said.
He mentioned a recent study by the German Nutrition Society that said it is “difficult or impossible” for vegans to get enough nutrients, and the paper recommended that vegans to take vitamin B12 supplements “permanently.”
Hold the table salt: Iodine deficiencies in the US
Another trend CRN noticed and is trying to increase awareness of is iodine deficiency in the US. Among pregnant women, this deficiency is harmful. “[It’s] one of the things we’ve focused on since the last few years,” MacKay said.
“In our Western nations, we’re seeing a suboptimal iodine intake because our food supply has less of it than we used to,” he added. It started when increased cases of hypertension pushed table salt out of favor, and processed foods like canned soups and chips opt for sea salt or Himalayan salt—neither of which is fortified with iodine—to follow consumer demand. The initial choice of table salt for iodine fortification had to do with its ubiquity in the US diet in years past.
Consequences that have been reported for pregnant women with iodine deficiency include lower IQ for the child, and according to MacKay, “cretinism,” which includes growth retardation.
The controversy of sacrificing nutritious ingredients to meet “clean label” demands is a hot topic in the food industry, like when cereal manufacturers removed vitamin B2 in order to become non-GMO.
How the dietary supplements industry could take part
MacKay said the industry has been taking steps to work with regulators to allow dietary supplements to be included in the SNAP and WIC programs.
Additionally, MacKay said the industry can work closely with healthcare associations and societies to find what deficiencies a population has, say, the elderly or children, so supplement companies can match up products with nutrient shortfalls.
“We really have the opportunity to be part of the short-term solution,” MacKay said. “And I say short-term because everyone’s vision should be a population that gets all the nutrients they need from their diet, that should be the goal.”
But, frankly, MacKay said “we are so far from reaching that goal, and we need to be pragmatic.”