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Global health networks are buzzing with a term used to describe a rising chronic condition that has become more prevalent throughout the developed world. This condition is being recognized as the precursor to many of the health concerns that afflict the wealthiest of nations, and it is being recognized as a contributing cause of diabetes, obesity, inflammatory illness, and even cancers.

What is this condition? Under-nutrition. It’s the state of having enough calories per day to eat but not enough nutrition per day in those calories to stay well and avoid illness. On the outside, people who are undernourished look the same, but on the inside, they are aging at a rapid rate.

Under-nutrition means lacking sufficient enzymes, antioxidants, phytonutrients and nutritional co-factors to maintain a robust immune system. People who are undernourished frequently have food cravings, digestive issues, a lack of energy and poor sleep quality.

We need only look at the fast food industrial complex that produces a hamburger with over 50 ingredients to see a classic example of “food” sufficient in calories but lacking nutritionally. The same issues apply to any processed food for that matter.

What’s in that hamburger?

Take, for example, a Big Mac®. According to McDonald’s, a Big Mac® is made of: “100% Beef Patty, Big Mac Bun, Pasteurized Process American Cheese, Big Mac Sauce, Shredded Lettuce, Pickle Slices, Onions.” Most of the fixings sound pretty straightforward, until you get to the bun and the sauce, which is when the ingredient list gets longer. 

Big Mac® Bun Ingredients:

Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid); water; high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar; soybean oil and/or canola oil

The bun also contains 2% or less of the following:
Salt; calcium sulfate; calcium carbonate; wheat gluten; ammonium sulfate; ammonium chloride; dough conditioners (may contain one or more of: sodium stearoyl lactylate, DATEM, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide); calcium propionate and/or sodium propionate (preservatives); soy lecithin; sesame seed.

Big Mac® Sauce Ingredients:

Soybean oil; pickle relish (diced pickles, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, vinegar, corn syrup, salt, calcium chloride, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate (preservative), spice extractives, polysorbate 80); distilled vinegar; water; egg yolks; high fructose corn syrup; onion powder; mustard seed; salt; spices; propylene glycol alginate; sodium benzoate (preservative); mustard bran; sugar; garlic powder; vegetable protein (hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat); caramel color; extractives of paprika; soy lecithin; turmeric (color); calcium disodium EDTA (protect flavor).

It’s interesting to note that one of the things missing from the ingredients in the buns is yeast. The main reason for adding sugar (and high fructose corn syrup, apparently) to bread dough is to give the yeast something to react with. Azodicarbonamide is banned as a food additive in many parts of the world, but not the United States.

Many people are trying to eliminate monosodium glutamate (MSG) from their diets. In animal studies it is shown to increase appetite, and numerous adverse reactions are linked to its consumption. “Vegetable protein” is just a fancy name for MSG and renaming it is not helping American consumers watch what they eat.

This is not to pick on McDonalds. The entire restaurant and packaged food industry is guilty of the same thing. This trend to substitute chemicals for real food in the name of profit is the main contributor to a state of under-nutrition. And yet cheap food comes with real costs.

How to Avoid Under-Nutrition

Food has the ability to either harm us or heal us. Healing qualities are found in whole food fruits and vegetables that are grown with organic practices, and minimally processed to retain the full bounty of nutrition within. Maintaining optimal nutrition requires a diversity of foods few can achieve through diet alone. And yet many supplements—full of synthetics or isolates—also suffer from under-nutrition.

To fill the gap and avoid under-nutrition, look for supplements sourced from whole foods, made to exacting standards, with cold-processing to preserve all the goodness of earth’s bounty. When it comes to nutrition, it pays to be uncompromising.