The advent of convenience and fast foods has made it easy, a little too easy, to reach daily calorie requirements (2000 calories for women, 2500 calories for men). But calorie-dense food is not the same as nutrient-dense food. The typical Western diet has become very calorie dense, but often lacks the vitamins, minerals and phyto-compounds that make the body work efficiently.
A typical example is white bread. In order to make it white, wholemeal flour is processed to within an inch of its life, removing all the fibre and most of its vitamins and minerals. Some of these are added back in via the euphemistically named ‘fortification’ process, but not all. The result? White bread is calorie dense and nutrient poor compared to its wholemeal relative. White rice, white pasta and many breakfast cereals go through a similar process
An abundance of highly processed and sugary convenience foods, cereals, cakes, biscuits and confectionery adorn the supermarket aisles. Food manufacturers and supermarkets seem determined to push these ‘non-foods’, which are both cheap and addictive. Furthermore only one in five people in the UK meet the five-a-day target for fruit and vegetables. The net result is a phenomenon called Type-B malnutrition. Not malnutrition from a lack of food, but rather nutrient deficiency in spite of above average calorie consumption – in other words overweight but under-nourished.
Obesity is at almost epidemic levels. In 2009 (the last set of figures available), 61.3% of adults (aged 16 or over) and 28.3% of children (aged 2-10) in England were overweight or obese. Whilst the detailed nutrition status of these people is not studied, it is reasonable to assume that many, if not all, consume sub-optimal levels of certain essential vitamins and minerals.
Nutrient dense foods include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains (e.g. wholemeal bread and brown rice as oppose the their white alternatives), lean meats, fish, and low-fat dairy foods. Convenience foods, fast food, and most things that come in a packet are often calorie dense and nutrient poor.
Take a look at your daily food intake and find areas where you can switch to a nutrient dense alternative. Small changes performed consistently over time produce big results, so wholesale change is not necessary or recommended to begin with. Start with one thing like swapping your mid-morning latte and muffin for green tea and a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, then work from there.