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By Josceline Walden on 01/02/19 | Category - FoodWise Tips


When you think of "malnutrition" what comes to mind?

Usually we think of families in 3rdworld countries, or maybe those with clinical eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
You probably don’t associate malnourishment with eating food, but the truth is you can be malnourished whilst still eating regularly.

According to the BDA (British Association of Dieticians) in the UK alone around 3million people suffer from malnourishment costing the NHS an excess of £13 billion per year!

 This post is designed to help you understand what impacts our nutritional status: signs of malnutrition, high-risk groups, links with poverty, and simple ways to eat yourself healthy whilst cutting costs.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition occurs when your body is not getting the correct amount of nutrients it needs from your diet.

Whilst usually associated with poorer countries where their diet is restricted and there is less food security, it is increasingly becoming a problem in Westernised societies due to:

-      Highly accessible and cheaper convenience foods with little to no nutritional benefit (think ready meals, sugary snacks, cereals, takeaways).

-      Increased food prices making cheaper alternatives more attractive

-      Growing economic stress

-      Miss-communication; healthy eating messages usually focused on weight not tackling the larger picture of malnutrition

More people opt for as a quick fix.  Due to the rise in food prices and other personal or environmental, stress factors, these food choices can seem like an easier option than preparing meals themselves.

Malnourishment is the leading cause of morbidity (disease) and the consequences harsh. From the direct impact on daily functioning, lowering immunity, energy levels, disrupting sleep and cognitive abilities(thinking, problem solving, mood, IQ, reasoning abilities).
To the more indirect, or long-term impacts, on heart and bone health, fertility, social, and economic growth.

Diet shapes your brain, impacts your body and influences your quality of life.

Signs & Symptoms

There are few things you can look out for when identifying malnourishment in yourself or others:

·     Weight loss/weight gain

·     Tiredness/Fatigue

·     Loss of muscle strength

·     Loss of appetite and mood changes

·     Reduced quality of life

·     Inability to carry out daily activities & loss of independence

·     Slower healing and easily picking up illnesses like colds and flu

·     Increased infection

·     Poor sleep

·     Thinning of hair and nails


You may notice how many of those link in with symptoms of mental health illnesses like depression. It is important to note how our body and mind are not separate entities and work together to help us thrive.

 Who’s At Risk?

Malnutrition can impact anyone, but there are certain groups who are deemed as being more "high risk”:

·     Elderly

·     Those suffering from mental health or disability

·     Those with income-poverty

·      Those with lower education or lack of education around healthy eating and simplistic nutrition

·     Children who may be carers for parents and/or siblings

·     Those suffering with clinical eating disorders and other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, that can influence the body's ability to absorb nutrients 

·     Minority groups & those at risk of social isolation

 Malnutrition has serious consequences on child development and, for pregnant mothers, foetal development. Therefore it is important that when we look at tackling food poverty, and supporting those most at risk of nutritional deficiencies, in order to reduce the immediate, and future, impact on health and wellbeing. 

The Poverty Cycle

Low income is a massive factor that puts families under pressure and at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Low-income families are also at a higher risk of illness and disability meaning their costs of healthcare may be higher, leaving even less to budget healthy eating, and with the additional stressors experienced, making diet and lifestyle bottom of the priorities. Having to take days of work, or school due to poor health as a result of malnutrition can perpetuate the problem, interrupting education, or economic advances. And so the poverty cycle deepens.


The Good News!

Nutrition doesn’t have to be rocket science and a balanced diet doesn’t have to be bland.
You needn’t be Jamie Oliver in the kitchen, and you can definitely push your trolley straight past the Chia Seeds and bottled Kombucha.


Here are some simple steps to kick-start yours and your family's health today:

  1.   Back to basics: the Eat well plate is a great place to start. It provides national guidelines for healthy eating, portion sizes and food group examples. Download a copy here and use it to guide your day so you can check in with yourself that you’ve included each food group in its recommended daily requirement.

  2. Start your day right: Having a good breakfast sets you up for the day. Skipping breakfast, or having sugary cereals, create fluctuations in blood glucose levels that impact mood and concentration. You maybe more likely fall into traps of grab and go energy drinks, sugary pastries, or relying on caffeine to power you through your day. 

    Try having a hot bowl of oats, add in fruit like raisins or frozen berries; both cheaper alternatives. Or if you have time scramble eggs and serve with two slices of whole meal toast, add some spinach or cherry tomatoes on the side for a portion of veggies, and serve with a small glass of orange juice or milk.

  3. Bulk Up: Buy veggies and fruits frozen, you get more for your money and freezing them retains their nutrition. Go for variety, eat the rainbow, and although fresh is best any vegetables are better than none.

  4. So No To "Cheap” Cheats: Whilst ready meals and fast-food may look cheaper in the short-term, long term they can be a real penny pincher, and laden with salts, preservatives and sugar you will find when you make your favourite meals yourself they will a) taste a lot better, b)be healthier, c) you’ll make more for your money, so instead of one meal you’ll make a few for the week.

  5. Get "Souper Smooth”: It is always best to get your nutrition from sold foods, but sometimes our mood, time constraints and energy levels, call for a quick fix and this is when home made smoothies or soups serve a fantastic purpose, and a real nutrient hit. BUT make your own, shop bought smoothies are expensive and both can have a lot of hidden sugars, preservatives and salts. 

    My advice with smoothies is to base them around veggies (celery, spinach, kale, lettuce) then sweeten with fruit: ½ apple, ½ banana, some kiwi or frozen berries, skip on the honey or syrup and use a milky base to add a portion of dairy.

    Soups are so versatile; bulk them up with some red lentils that are £1 a bag, and that’s another one of your five a day and great source of dietary fibre. 

  6. Get Food Label Savvy: Understanding your food labels can help you make wise choices. Whilst we are bombarded with calorie information it we actually want to look more for nutritional quality, which sometimes means higher calories, as a lot of good foods (avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish) are high calorie but packed full of goodies. It’s the high sugars, salts and saturated fats that contribute to high cholesterol and we need to moderate in our diet. 

    For more information download the BDA’s guide to food labels here.

  7. Can-do attitude: Canned foods can be a good option when looking at budget buys. Things like canned tuna, chickpeas, mackerel & sardines, baked beans, are all cheap and easy store cupboard essentials that are great for days when you need something quick but will still fuel your body appropriately.

  8. Stress Less: Easier said than done, but environment really does impact your appetite, food choices and digestion. Choose meals you like, plan ahead if you can, cook with your kids and make it fun for them to learn new skills.

    There are so many free online resources and recipe databases where you can find healthy alternatives, have a look at the FoodWise recipes for some simple satisfying meals. 

  9. Move More: If suffering from low appetite and loss of energy actually moving more and getting outside, can increase your appetite, boost your mood, and help regain any strength lost due to malnourishment. 

  10. SPEAK UP: If you are really struggling then seeking help from your GP is the best option. You may be given help by and NHS dietician who can give you and your family individualised assessment and support. 

Final Words

Be gentle on yourself.
It’s all about the small steps, forget the bigger picture, and work each day at the little changes you can implement into yours and your family's lives that down the line will make for a long, happy, healthy future.

If you’re stuck we want to support you through your journey. Our freeFoodWise courses run around Guildford and Woking. 
On them you are fully catered for,supported, you’ll build community as well as learning important life-skills that enable you to support yours and your family's health whilst still cutting the costs.



NHS Malnutrition
BDA Malnutrition Information
Unite For Site; Social Determinants of Malnutrition


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