Modern Day Malnutrition: Anemia

In a country as wealthy as the United States, with food so abundant and affordable, it seems strange that anyone could suffer from malnutrition. And yet, not only is malnutrition a common occurrence, even the most well–off of our citizens are susceptible to it. The same goes for other developed nations. But it’s not happening because we’re not getting enough food. Developed countries rarely, if ever, have famines and food shortages. Rather, it’s the nature of our food that is causing this problem. Thanks to modern food processing methods, developed countries produce a plentiful supply of food that is high in calories—sugar, white flour, corn syrup, and animal products from animals fattened up on soybeans and corn. While in centuries past, many people died for want of calories, we have more than we could ever eat, and at an affordable price. Unfortunately, those same modern processing methods, though they give us cheap calories, eliminate much of the nutrition from foods. Nutrients are just as important for survival as calories, so with too much of the latter and not enough of the former, it’s easy to end up both overweight and undernourished. You can be eating too much and not enough at the same time! It doesn’t help that, thanks to the structure of our society, high–calorie/low–nutrient foods are the cheapest and the most convenient.

Anemia is a good example of the malnutrition that runs rampant despite the prosperity of our country. Anemia is a blood disorder with symptoms including fatigue, pallor, depression, headaches, lower back pain, dizziness, easy bruising and slow healing, loss of sex drive, brittle nails, hair loss, thin and dry hair, dry skin, and, in extreme cases, shortness of breath and palpitations. The disease is most commonly caused by a lack of dietary iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin, a protein that makes it possible for red blood cells to carry oxygen to our tissues. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are essential nutrients for the formation of the red blood cells themselves. Though such nutrients are readily present in whole, natural foods, anemia affects an estimated 3 to 6 million Americans.

One reason why such deficiencies exist even in people who can afford whole foods is simply a lack of knowledge. Most doctors don’t receive a thorough education in nutrition, let alone the average American, and most people don’t realize that eliminating the cause of their symptoms could simply be a matter of eating better. Another reason is that our society is structured so that processed foods are cheaper and more convenient than more nutritious whole foods. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to find even one anemia sufferer who would really rather endure fatigue, depression and back pain than make some changes in diet and lifestyle that would not just eliminate those symptoms, but make for a more satisfying mealtime as well.

If you are (or think you may be) anemic, nutrient deficiency is very likely the cause. To increase your intake of the nutrients you need, try these recommendations:

–Add more leafy green vegetables to your diet. These include kale, collard greens, cabbage, bok choy, swiss chard and spinach. Leafy greens contain both iron and folic acid, as well as manganese, another important nutrient for iron absorption. They also contain chlorophyll, a nutrient similar to hemin, the pigment that forms hemoglobin when combined with protein.

–Add more iron rich red meat, such as lamb and beef, to your diet. These meats also contain vitamin B12 and the protein needed for forming hemoglobin. However, meat should be from grass–fed animals. Animals that did not eat their greens will have little iron in their own blood, and the meat from anemic animals won’t help you very much to overcome your own anemia. Especially rich in nutrients are organs such as the liver and kidneys, and since blood is formed from the bone marrow, try making a soup with beef soup bones containing marrow.

–Seafood is another good source of iron, B12 and protein, but it should be wild caught. Organic eggs and dairy products from grass–fed cows can also provide the same nutrients.

–Other foods that contain the nutrients you need: whole grains, beans, nuts, dried fruit, and especially sea vegetables such as nori and kombu.

Whether you’re anemic or not, eating more of these foods will without a doubt increase your energy and improve your mood, and since they contain such a wide variety of nutrients, they will address other types of deficiencies as well. So give it a try, and email me with any questions!