“Hidden hunger” is a term that is defined as a long term deficiency of essential micronutrients in the diet. These include vitamins and minerals. These deficiencies may not become apparent immediately but may take years to manifest themselves. Their deficiencies may lead not only to lowered immunity and increased risk of disease but also lead to problems with mental health and sometimes even death.
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Researchers have noted that globally around 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger. While majority of these cases are seen in the developing nations, a growing number of these cases are also witnessed in the developed nations. Statistics for example show that a quarter of children in the United States are suffering from deficiencies of magnesium, calcium and Vitamins A, D and E. The reason behind hidden hunger in developed nations is consumption of energy dense and nutrient poor junk foods as well as lifestyle diet choices.
Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Safety has warned that veganism can cause damage to bones and nerves in the long run. He says the vegan trend could be a, “major contributor to hidden hunger in the developed world”.
Rising number of people opting for veganism could be one of the causes of micronutrient deficiencies among the people living in developed nations. Vegan Society states that over the last decade, the number of vegans has risen by four fold. At present 5 percent of the US population is vegetarian and of these around half are vegans. Veganism includes consumption of only plant based foods that precludes fish, meat, poultry, eggs and even dairy products.
Experts believe long term plant based diet can lead to micronutrient deficiencies and bone health is of particular concern. Intakes of vitamin D and calcium are lowered with vegan diets. When compared to general populations, rates of fractures are three times higher among vegans. Other deficiencies seen among vegans are those of iodine and omega 3 fatty acids. Iodine deficiencies are linked to thyroid disorders and omega 3 fatty acids protect against heart disease. Vegans are also at risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies. Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal foods. This deficiency can lead to weakness, developmental delays, nerve damage and anaemia.
Most vegans regularly take supplements and fortified foods to cover for these deficiencies. However many are still not convinced about fortification and supplementation, add experts.
Heather Russell, a dietitian from The Vegan Society however explained that when planned correctly, vegan diet need not be deficient in micronutrients. She said, “Well-planned vegan diets contain all the nutrients that our bodies need. We work with the British Dietetic Association to share the message they can support healthy living in people of all ages.”