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overweight and malnourished

Malnutrition occurs when there is a lack of necessary nutrients. While it is often associated with starvation, people can be overweight while also failing to meet their nutritional needs.

Macronutrients, micronutrients, and empty calories

Macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) provide the body with energy (calories).

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals necessary for health, but they do not provide calories.

Empty calories can describe foods that are high in calories but low in nutritional value (soda and junk foods). When empty calories make up a large part of the diet, you can gain weight without getting adequate nutrition.

Nutrients of concern

Poor diets often do not provide enough calcium. If you drink a lot of soda, you are probably not consuming calcium-rich milk. Dark, leafy greens and broccoli are also good sources of calcium, but vegetables are often missing in poor diets.

Phytonutrients (compounds found in plant foods) are not essential to life, but they have many health benefits, including protection against disease. A diet of highly-processed foods with few fresh fruits, vegetables, or whole grains can be in short supply of these beneficial plant nutrients.

Malnutrition can affect anyone

Empty calories tend to be cheap and quick. This makes low-income populations and those with busy lifestyles especially vulnerable to this “overweight and malnourished” phenomenon. The trick is to plan your meals in advance, which will help you keep your food costs down and help you avoid needing to grab something quick when on the go.


Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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