Malnutrition in the 21st Century

The scourge called malnutrition.

With a little effort and knowledge malnutrition can, I believe, be eradicated -- partially if not permanently.

A bold statement. Yes, but bear with me.

To understand what malnutrition is we need to look at its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What is malnutrition?

  • This is when one’s diet – the intake of food we eat – doesn’t provide us with the nutrition (calories and proteins) our body needs.
  • Malnutrition is also where we consume the wrong/bad/ill nutrition.
  • Mal -- being a prefix meaning wrong, bad, ill. Or in some instances where we consume too many calories.
  • Animals like humans can also suffer from malnutrition.

WHO (World Health Organisation) says that malnutrition is the gravest single threat to global public health.

Countries in the world where malnutrition is most prevalent.

Malnutrition accounts for 45% of child deaths.

Underweight births and inter-uterine growth restrictions are responsible for about 2.2 million child deaths annually.

And, deficiencies in vitamin A cause 1 million deaths each year.

Malnutrition contributes to diseases such as measles, pneumonia, and diarrhea.

We often only attribute malnutrition to the third world or developing countries, but in our developed, industrialized countries certain marginalized groups suffer the same fate.

  • Elderly people, especially those in long term institutional care.
  • The poor.
  • The socially isolated.
  • And those with chronic eating disorders (bulimia or anorexia nervosa)
  • People convalescing after an illness.

Signs and symptoms of malnutrition that may include:

  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Low sex drive.
  • Depression.
  • Longer healing time for wounds.
  • Fatigue, apathy, or tiredness.
  • Hair loss.
  • In children who are malnourished slow behavioral and intellectual development takes place. Even if treated these disabilities may persist – in some cases for life.

Malnutrition in wealthy and industrialized nations is usually caused by:

  • Poor diet.
  • Mental health problems (anorexia nervosa or bulimia)
  • Mobility or lack thereof (being able to get fresh foods)
  • Digestive disorders and stomach conditions.
  • Alcoholism.

In poor nations, malnutrition is commonly caused by:

  • Food shortages.
  • High food prices and poor food distribution.

According to the 2017 Global Nutrition Report, the African continent faces serious nutrition-related challenges. It’s the only continent in the world where children are both fat and stunted. 60 million African children under five are not growing properly. 10 million others are classified as overweight.

Could a ‘miracle tree’ help end this pandemic?

According to Steven Putter, executive director of the Imagine Rural Development Initiative, which has been planting Moringa trees in Zambia since 2013 and Kurt Bihlmaeir of CoZim trust who’s been doing the same, but in Zimbabwe – malnutrition can be defeated.

Why is Moringa oleifera called God’s miracle tree?

Moringa oleifera is a tree that is known to have incredible nutritional and healing properties. Some call it the miracle tree or tree of life. (Some believe that the earliest reference to Moringa being used was in Exodus 15: 23-27.)

  1. Its green leaves and stems are packed with vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants, and protein.
  2. This drought-resistant plant is also known by many names. Some call it the drumstick tree while others call it the horseradish tree.
  3. As a food, its leaves are rich in protein, minerals and vitamins A, B, and C.
  4. In ancient Egypt, Greece and throughout the Roman Empire, Moringa oil was used as a prized perfume.
  5. The flowers may be used to make tea, and its seeds roasted and eaten like peanuts.
  6. Moringa seed powder has anti-bacterial properties and can be used in the process of water purification.
  7. Moringa is often used as an animal feed supplement.
  8. Plants can be harvested every five to seven weeks. It likes sunshine and can withstand drought. Also, it grows quickly from seed or cutting and can reach a height of 12 feet within the first year. It regenerates itself after even the most severe pruning.

How do we use the Miracle Tree?

  1. The leaves and young, green pods can be eaten like vegetables. The leaves are prepared similar to spinach. They are low in fats and carbohydrates but contain a very high content of protein, calcium, minerals, iron, and vitamins A, B, and C. Moringa ranks amongst the best of perennial tropical vegetables.
  2. Moringa flowers can be fried. Some say they have the texture and taste of mushrooms. The flowers can also be made into an herbal tea that’s useful in treating colds.
  3. Seeds in the pods are prepared in the same way as green peas, or they are roasted and eaten as peanuts.
  4. When the pods turn brown the seeds can be crushed to obtain a high-grade oil comparable to olive oil.
  5. The oil, in turn, can be used for cooking, making soap, for burning lamps and for the treatment of skin infections like scabies.

These are just a few uses for the Moringa tree. (Ways that the Moringa tree can be used.) There are many more.

Just two thoughts:

What if a few hundred Moringa trees were to be planted at every rural school and the learners taught how to use and harvest the produce.

Could Moringa be the cornerstone that is needed to relieve the nutrition-related challenges of Africa?

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