Beware of the hidden hunger

You might not feel it in your belly, but hidden hunger silently eats away at your health and vitality

Woman having food

Our body's output depends on its input. When we are hungry, a lot of us seek refuge in the quick ready-to-eat foods. It's easy, convenient and time saving but no matter how much we fill ourselves with such foods, the body remains hungry. By hungry, I mean “starving of vital nutrients”. When you eat to satisfy your hunger and yet fail to provide the right nutrition to your body, this state of the body with poor nutritional profile is called hidden hunger or in more scientific terms, micronutrient deficiency.

Many of us think that we are eating healthy by having frequent meals, but we fail to realise that what we are eating is lacking in the much-needed vitamins and minerals [micronutrients] required on a daily basis. This gradually causes deficiency of micronutrients in the body, affecting our health. Personal food choices, cooking practices and individual lifestyles influence or aggravate symptoms of hidden hunger. We may not eat less [although the caloric content may be higher than necessary in one meal], but we often don't eat right. We need a meal that has all the much-required nutrients and is not just high in carbohydrate, protein or fat.

Don't think that micronutrient deficiency is just a problem affecting the lower economic sections, where people get less nutrition due to poverty and scarcity of food. It is fast becoming a problem in higher economic sections of the society as well, where though people are eating well in terms of quantity, they are not doing so qualitatively. In fact, the National Family Health Survey [NFHS] 3 found that almost 36 % of urban Indian women are deficient in iron. Do you realise the extent of the problem?

What to expect

Hidden hunger is not a disease but can show in the form of a disability or deficiency of a particular nutrient. Deficiency of micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A, iodine, calcium, zinc and B- complex vitamins are common signs of hidden hunger. These micronutrients, though required in minute amounts, do you a world of good by assisting in metabolic functions and reactions in the body. Without them, the body doesn't function properly. They are also the reason behind that perfect glowing skin and shiny tresses.

How it affects

Deficiency of micronutrients like iron manifest as low haemoglobin levels in the body leading to fatigue, low blood pressure, low immunity, hair fall or greying of hair. Women are most likely to suffer from deficiency of iron due to menstrual periods, pregnancy, child birth and lactation since the requirement of iron is high during these stages and little is done to supplement it. Iron is vital in forming haemoglobin in the blood and helps to supply oxygen throughout the cells of the body. Deficiency of vitamins such a vitamin A may cause poor vision, skin allergies and infections. It could also make you prone to allergies.

Calcium deficiency can result in weak or brittle bones leading to fractures, since it is vital to bone health.

Iodine is a much needed factor in regulating metabolism and mental coordination and lack of it can cause difficulty in concentration or forgetfulness, loss of appetite and interest in life.

Folic acid and vitamin B12 deficiency causes birth defects or abnormalities and improper haemoglobin synthesis.

Though only traces of zinc are required in the body, deficiency of even that can cause improper brain and nervous coordination.

If you find any of above symptoms familiar, get a hair mineral analysis test done. It gives you an overview of your body's nutrient needs and indicates which minerals to pay attention to. It also detects possible hormonal problems.

It's important to give your body adequate amounts of micronutrients to avoid deficiency. Take the help of a nutritionist to help you find out how you fare on that count.

Try This

  • Have 2 – 3 servings of a variety of fruits, daily.
  • Opt for recipes that require baking, steaming and grilling rather than frying, deep frying or over cooking [some nutrients are heat sensitive] to preserve the nutrients in food.
  • Be open to a range of dishes or cuisines and not just your all time favourites to broaden the range of nutrients you consume.
  • Snack on a handful dry fruits such as almonds and walnuts, and flaxseeds rather than munching on high-calorie fast foods.
  • Choose fortified foods [ones that have added minerals to enhance the nutritional value of the product] over the non-fortified ones, when shopping for packaged foods. Remember, not all packaged foods are bad and the fortified variety give you an added advantage.
  • Take vitamin supplements under the supervision of your doctor.
  • Drink loads of water in the day to provide your body a tool to move the vitamins around.

Micronutrients were always present in most of the foods available to you; the only problem was you hardly ate them.

Implementing the above strategies along with proper exercise and lifestyle modifications will protect you from hidden hunger.

Daily dose

Nutrient Sources RDA*
Iron Whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, lentils, apricots, peaches, apple, dates, egg yolk and nuts. 25 – 30 mg/day
Iodine Sea food, potatoes, soybean, sesame [til] seeds, mushrooms, spinach 100 – 150 mcg/day
Zinc Seafood like crab and lobster, beans, whole grains, nuts and dairy products. 10 – 12 mg/day
Vitamin A Fruits, oily fish like mackerel, eggs and dairy products. 600 [retinol equivalents mcg/day]
Calcium Dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, dairy products, whole grain cereals. 600mg/day
Folic acid and B12 Vitamin Seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, whole grain cereals. 200mcg/day and 1mcg/day
*Recommended Dietary Allowances for Adults–ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research]

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Afrah Karmale holds a B.H Sc degree in Foods, Nutrition and Dietetics. She is a consultant nutritionist and dietitian at a leading healthcare firm. Afrah loves to read motivational and inspiring stories. She is also passionate about food, cooking and travelling. In any situation she relies on the 3 Ps of life: Prayer, Perseverance and Patience

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