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Malnutrition is a common and severe health problem when a diet doesn’t contain the correct amount of nutrients. This could happen to anyone – it doesn’t matter if you eat six times a day! Both over-nutrition (when you receive more than enough nutrients) and under-nutrition (when you don’t receive enough nutrients) are classified as malnutrition. Malnutrition in adults can happen even if you’re obese.

Six causes of malnutrition in adults

Obesity levels have risen because of the availability of nutrient-poor foods that are high in calories. In addition to this, food processing techniques and modern agriculture have reduced the nutrient content present in foods. So, you might still be nutrient deficient even after consuming many calories.

 Both over-nutrition (when you receive more than enough nutrients) and under-nutrition (when you don't receive enough nutrients) are classified as malnutrition. Malnutrition in adults can happen even if you're obese.

Symptoms of malnutrition

The most common under-nutrition symptom in adults is weight loss of up to ten percent of body weight within three to six months. As for over-nutrition, the most obvious sign is being overweight due to overeating. There are times when excess intake of some nutrients and imbalance of others due to fad diets can result in over-nutrition. Instead of weight loss, you begin to gain weight.

Depression could also be a symptom of malnutrition. Researchers have found a strong association between malnutrition and impaired mental health (which includes faintness, sadness, hopelessness, sudden fear, self-deprecation, and worthlessness, among others).

Factors that could lead to malnutrition

On a general note, malnutrition is caused by consuming little food or food with little nutrients. However, malnutrition is usually more complex. It can be caused by a mixture of social, psychological, and physical issues like:

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  1. Changes in age: As you grow older, it is normal for you to experience a decline in the ability to taste, smell and maintain a good appetite. This makes it hard to enjoy meals and maintain a good eating habits.
  2. Illness: Inflammation and disease-related complications could contribute to a change in how a body processes nutrients.
  3. Inability to eat: A difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or chewing can significantly contribute to a person not being able to eat regularly. This could lead to malnutrition.
  4. Dementia: Behavioral and memory problems caused by Alzheimer’s or dementia can lead to the person forgetting to eat or buy groceries.
  5. Medications: Some medications affect the ability to absorb nutrients, which will end up affecting your appetite.
  6. Restricted diets: When medical conditions are managed via dietary restrictions, it could reduce the consumption of nutrients.

Improving nutrition

Mealtime planning can help older adults maintain a good and healthy diet. This healthy eating habit has to include:

  • Food thickeners: People suffering from dysphagia can use a food thickener like SimplyThick Easy Mix to ensure that their foods and drinks are easier to swallow.
  • Nutrient-rich foods: Plan delicious and healthy meals with different foods, including whole grains, lean meats, fish, vegetables, and fresh fruits.
  • Spices and herbs: Make your meals more exciting to eat by adding spices and herbs.
  • Healthy snacks: Eat snacks that are rich in nutrients between meals. These include fruits and dairy (be wary of low-fat options, which are normally high in sugar).
  • Nutritional supplements: You can take nutrition drinks supplements to increase your daily calories. 

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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