Vitamins & Minerals - Hidden Hunger
In their 2007 World Hunger Series, Hunger and Health, the World Food Programme (WFP) states:
‘Hidden hunger affects more than two billion people. Even when a person consumes adequate calories and protein, if they lack one single micronutrient - or a combination of vitamins and minerals - their immune system is compromised, and infections take hold.’
We are referring here to suboptimal levels of one or more micronutrients, and it is not just infections that take hold, it is the whole gamut of chronic degenerative disorders.
Over tens of thousands of years, human beings developed sustainable ways to feed themselves. These included:
- Preservation of topsoil
- Crop rotation
- Natural fertilisers
- Locally grown and seasonal fruit and vegetables
- Fresh, free range meat, eggs and milk
- Freshly cooked nutritious meals.
The food they produced was rich in essential micro-nutrients.
Modern farming methods have conspired to maximise yields at the expense of nutrient content. Such methods include:
- Deep ploughing
- Artificial fertilisers
- Pesticides and fungicides
- Genetically modified crops
- Early harvesting and artificial ripening
- Factory farming
- Storage over long periods and transport over great distances.
As a result, our food contains a fraction of the essential micronutrients it contained one hundred years ago. And the problem is compounded by a food industry wedded to optimising shelf life and taste through milling, refining, processing, additives and the extensive use of sugar, corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (trans fats). A related issue is that we need less food because we are doing less, so our intake of essential micronutrients is further reduced.
The awful truth is that even when we can afford a balanced diet and choose it, our food is often so depleted that Hidden Hunger persists.
5-a-Day is the name of a number of programmes in different countries to encourage the consumption of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, following a recommendation by the WHO that individuals should consume at least four hundred grams daily. The reason for this is that it is fruit and vegetables that provide us with the protection we need in the form of antioxidants and other protective nutrients. Antioxidants help us to neutralise free radicals, which are at the root of many everyday illnesses.
The programme was introduced by the UK Department of Health in the winter of 2002-2003. After more than ten years, research shows that few people are meeting the target. Overall, people are only getting 2.7 portions, while 16-25 year olds, on average, get only 1.3 portions. Some people eat none at all. And yet, fruit and vegetables provide 90 percent of our antioxidants, which is why the 5-a-Day message is so important, and why some countries recommend up to 10 portions a day. Vitamins A, C and E are important antioxidants. The table compares their content in plant and animal foods.