Sunday, December 12, 2010

Malnutrition is ubiquitous, but maize-related malnutrition is unique

Several people have written to me, complaining that my focus on Africa's malnutrition is flawed and that other cultures have nutrition-related problems too. This is true, of course: all cultures that subsist on diets with limited variety tend to have unique diet-related problems. For example many rice eaters suffer from the disease beriberi. If I seem to focus on African malnutrition, it is because that is what I have observed personally.

Modern mass-produced foods, especially those that are highly processed, tend to have nutritional shortcomings. Micronutrient malnutrition has become quite common because of this. I tackle this subject in my book, A Healthy You, where I explain the emerging popularity of food supplements.
Maize malnutrition seems unique among Africans because maize forms the main dietary staple for many communities on the continent. Maize is a poor source of essential nutrients, including amino acids and key metabolic vitamins. These shortages impact the developing child negatively. Key organs affected include the developing brain and the immune system. It is my contention that Africans are erroneously perceived to be backward because of this underdevelopment. Along the same lines, they are perceived to be more diseased because of their weakened immune systems.