How Diets Full of Ultra-processed Foods Are Causing a Malnutrition Crisis Among Poor Children

Kylie Knott wrote . . . . . . . . .

Cheap, filling and tasty. There are many reasons why the humble instant noodle is a go-to comfort food for millions of people worldwide.

Packing shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores, the plastic-wrapped meals that take just minutes to prepare are also stocked in some office vending machines – a quick way to satisfy desk slaves too busy to leave the building.

But a new report says diets that rely on cheap and quick ultra-processed foods such as instant noodles are leading to a malnutrition crisis among the world’s underprivileged children.

The State of the World’s Children, an annual report whose 2019 edition was released this month by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), paints a depressing picture for millions of children, warning that poor diets are now the main risk factor for disease.

The report, the most comprehensive assessment of 21st-century child malnutrition, says that at least one in three of the world’s almost 700 million children under the age of five is undernourished or overweight, while half suffer from hidden hunger – a deficiency caused by eating food that is cheap and filling but lacking essential vitamins and micronutrients.

The report also found that 149 million children are stunted, or too short for their age, while 50 million children are wasting, an extreme form of undernutrition when a child is too thin for their height.

It also found that many poor city-dwelling children live in either “food deserts”, with no healthy food options, or in “food swamps”, with an abundance of high-calorie, low-nutrient processed foods. Meanwhile, almost 45 per cent of children worldwide aged between six months and two years are not fed any fruit or vegetables, and almost 60 per cent do not eat any eggs, dairy, fish or meat. The shift in diets, the report says, is due to the rural population moving to cities in search of jobs.

“Sadly, as this report shows, too many children and young people are not getting the diets they need, which is undermining their capacity to grow, develop and learn to their full potential,” says Unicef’s executive director Henrietta Fore.

“Despite technological, cultural and social advances of the last few decades, we have lost sight of this most basic fact: if children eat poorly, they live poorly.”

Diets that rely on ultra-processed foods such as instant noodles have become the meal of choice for working populations looking for cheap and easy food options, the report states.

“Instant noodles are what I call empty-calorie foods,” says Michelle Lau, principal dietitian and founder of Nutrilicious, a Hong Kong-based nutrition consultancy and communications company. “They have a long shelf life but provide little or no nutritional benefit.” She adds that they are also refined carbohydrates so they take longer to digest, meaning children don’t feel hungry after eating them.

With children’s bellies full, parents and carers are happy. But many are unaware of the food’s poor nutritional value.

High in saturated fat, instant noodles are loaded with calories, salt, artificial food colours, flavourings and preservatives, says Lau. Their high sodium content, a known risk factor for obesity and high blood pressure, is another downside, she adds.

“The effect is even greater if people are overweight or obese. A diet heavy on cheap and convenient food like instant noodles that fill stomachs but lack key nutrients such as protein, fibre and iron is not recommended for children. In fact, they are not recommended for anyone.”

In somewhat of an ironic twist, the Unicef report points out that while nations such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are becoming economically wealthier, people’s diets have become poorer, especially children whose parents’ hectic lifestyle leaves them with less time to prepare healthy meals.

For these three nations, it found about 40 per cent of children aged five and below were malnourished – much more than the one-in-three global average.

Malaysia bears a significant double burden of malnutrition: while 20.7 per cent of children under five suffer from stunting and 11.5 per cent from wasting, 12.7 per cent of children (five to 19 year olds) are obese. This reality is more complex in poor urban areas, where malnutrition rates tend to be higher than the national average.

Lau says underweight children or unhealthily thin children are usually undernourished. But she says this can also apply to overweight children – and she is keen to dispel some cultural misconceptions.

“Many Asian parents have the mindset that if their children are overweight, then they must be nourished, which is false.”

“Millions of children subsist on an unhealthy diet because they do not have a better choice,” says Fore, adding that the way we understand and respond to malnutrition needs to change. “It’s not just about getting children enough to eat. It’s about getting them the right food to eat. That is our common challenge today.”

The Unicef report says one way children and families can make healthier food choices is to encourage companies to switch to front-of-package nutrition labelling, where it’s visible, accurate and easy to understand. Lau agrees.

“It’s vital consumers check nutritional labels when purchasing items such as instant noodles,” she says. “Check the amount of total fat, saturated fat and sodium, and then choose the variety with the lower sodium and fat options.

“Nutrition labels of instant noodles are expressed as ‘per package’, so consuming the whole pack of noodles, the nutrition intake will equate to value shown on the nutrition label.”

The World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations recommend that total fat and saturated fat intake should be no more than 30 per cent and 10 per cent of the daily energy intake, respectively.

Based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet, the upper limit of the daily intake of total fat and saturated fat is about 60 grams and 20 grams, respectively.

But despite the unhealthy nature of instant noodles, demand is strong, with the shift in working populations’ eating habits creating the perfect opportunity for the market to flourish. Last year the global instant noodle market hit US$42.2 billion and it is projected to soar to US$57.5 billion by 2024, according to

Manufacturers are slurping up the news, offering consumers more choice – such as vegetarian options – and expanding flavours, colours, textures and seasoning to satisfy different palates worldwide.

It is a global food item, after all. Consider statistics from the World Instant Noodles Association.

In 2018, a massive 103.6 billion servings of instant noodles were consumed globally. That is about 280 million servings eaten daily, with Asia driving demand, accounting for almost 80 per cent of total consumption.

China and Hong Kong, with a combined 40.25 billion servings in 2018, leads the noodle-eating pack, while Indonesia (12.54 billion) is the second-biggest consumer. Filling out the top 10 are India, Japan, Vietnam, the United States, the Philippines, South Korea (the country with the highest per capita consumption), Thailand and Brazil.

In China, instant noodles were even interpreted as an economic indicator after sales slipped to 38.5 billion servings in 2016, before rising to 40 billion last year, feeding speculation that the sharp recovery was because of concerns over the economy.

For those consumers keen to break their instant noodle habit, Lau says there are healthier alternatives such as buckwheat noodles – also called soba noodles and Japanese pasta – that have less calories and carbohydrates than others.

“I recommend 100 per cent buckwheat noodles because they are gluten free, so are ideal for children with a gluten allergy.”

She says rice vermicelli is also a good alternative, adding that it’s a great source of carbohydrates, has no cholesterol and contains very little fat. “And most don’t have added preservatives, bleaching agents or artificial colours.”

As well as the health cost, instant noodles come with a high environmental one – and not just from non-biodegradable plastic and foam-cup packaging.

“Instant noodles are highly processed and often processed in palm oil for fast cooking,” says Lau.

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the fruit of palm oil trees, but it has a “bad boy” reputation.

According to the wildlife NGO the WWF, 85 per cent of the global supply of palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, but irresponsible production has been blamed for rapid deforestation in these areas, a leading cause for loss of orangutans and their habitat. Tigers, elephants and rhinos are also affected, according to the WWF, as tropical rainforests are cleared to plant new palm plantations.

Source : SCMP

Hanger Steak with Charmoula


2 cups shelled fresh or frozen cranberry beans (12 ounces)
4 thyme sprigs
3 garlic cloves, smashed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 packed cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 packed cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound oyster mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 cup beef broth
2 pounds trimmed hanger steak
2 Italian frying peppers, thickly sliced


  1. In a large saucepan, combine the beans with the thyme and 2 of the garlic cloves. Cover with water and simmer over moderate heat until the beans are just tender, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper and let cool slightly in the liquid.
  2. in a food processor, combine the parsley, cilantro and the remaining garlic clove and pulse until chopped.
  3. Add the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of the olive oil and puree until smooth. Scrape the charmoula into a bowl. Stir in the ground coriander and cumin and season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil until shimmering. Add the oyster mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes.
  5. Drain the beans. Discard the thyme and garlic. Add the beans and beef broth to the mushrooms and cook over moderate heat until the liquid has nearly evaporated, about 15 minutes. Keep warm.
  6. light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Generously season the steak with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil. Brush the peppers with oil. Grill the steak, turning occasionally, until lightly charred all over and medium-rare within, 10 to 12 minutes.
  7. Transfer the steak to a work surface and let rest.
  8. Grill the peppers until softened and lightly charred, about 5 minutes.
  9. Slice the steak across the grain and serve with the cranberry beans, mushrooms, grilled peppers and charmoula.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Chef Mourad Lahlou

Video: Chicken Meat Grown from Cells of Live Chicken

A San Francisco company has developed a technique to grow cells from live chicken into meat you can eat – but how does it hold up to a taste test?

Watch video at You Tube (1:26 minutes) . . . . .

Oral Health For Older Adults

Older adults are at an especially high risk for mouth and tooth infections and the complications that can come with these problems. Losing teeth, which is mainly caused by infection, not only leads to changes in our appearance but may also make it harder to chew certain foods. That can make it harder to receive the nourishment we need to function. Complete loss of all teeth (also known as edentulous) is less common now in developed countries like the U.S., but it still becomes more common as we age regardless of where we may live.

Practicing good oral hygiene, using fluoride treatments, and getting regular dental care reduces oral infections and their complications. A recent article published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society offers a helpful overview of oral health for older adults, as well as tips for keeping your teeth and mouth in tip-top shape. Highlights from the article are summarized here.

We know that poor oral health is more common with increasing age—and there’s a connection between increasing age and having tooth decay. In fact, we know that dental cavities occur in older adults nearly twice as often as they do in younger adults.

The prevalence of gum disease, or periodontitis, also increases as we age. As many as 64 percent of older adults in the United States have moderate or severe periodontitis, compared with less than 38 percent for younger people. Both cavities and periodontitis contribute to tooth loss.

When dentists treat teeth and other structures in the mouth, bacteria can enter the bloodstream. These harmful bacteria can then travel throughout the body, and could potentially infect body implants you may have, including artificial joints and replacement heart valves. If you have bad oral health, even just brushing your teeth can release bacteria into your bloodstream.

The most important thing you can do to prevent infections is to maintain good oral hygiene. All older adults should be careful about their oral health. Older adults with artificial joints and artificial heart valves need to be extra careful. However, most patients with artificial joints and heart valves do not need antibiotics before having a dental procedure.

Your doctor or dentist should ask you about oral discomfort or tooth pain during your regular medical visits. They should also ask you about dry mouth symptoms during regular medical visits. Reduced saliva and dry mouth increase your risk for tooth decay. If you have dry mouth, check with your medical provider to see if any of the medications you are taking may be making your dry mouth worse.

Here’s a checklist of dos and don’ts for maintaining good oral health.


  • Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
  • Don’t use medications that reduce the production of saliva, if possible. (Ask your health care provider for more information.)
  • Don’t eat foods high in sugar, especially sticky high-sugar foods or candies.


  • Chew sugarless candy or chewing gum containing xylitol to stimulate saliva production, especially if you have symptoms of dry mouth.
  • Make an appointment with a dentist if you have symptoms of chronic dry mouth.
  • Brush your teeth every day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use an electric or battery-operated toothbrush, especially if you have problems thinking or making decisions (or if you care for someone who lives with these concerns).
  • Floss your teeth every day. Using floss holders may be helpful for people with stiff hands.
  • Ask your dentist about prescription-strength fluoride mouth rinses and fluoride varnishes if you have a history of tooth decay.
  • Ask your dentist about using a mouthwash containing chlorhexidine if you have gum disease or are at risk for gum disease.
  • All older adults should have a dental cleaning performed by a dental hygienist and an oral health assessment by their dentist at least twice a year.
  • If you have replacement heart valves or prosthetic joints, you need to be particularly careful about your oral hygiene to prevent the risk of serious infections. Ask your medical provider or dentist about steps you should take before you have your teeth cleaned or undergo any dental procedures.

Remember that good dental hygiene is an important part of healthy aging. There is no substitute for brushing your teeth after each meal and flossing every day.

Source: AGS Health in Aging Foundation

Vitamin D and Fish Oil Supplements Don’t Prevent Kidney Disease in Type 2 Diabetics

Taking vitamin D and fish oil supplements won’t prevent kidney disease in people with type 2 diabetes, a new study finds.

Many diabetics use the supplements, hoping they will have a positive effect on their kidneys and heart, the researchers said.

“We wanted this study to clarify whether these supplements have any real kidney benefit in adults with diabetes. Even if it’s not the result we hoped for, closing a chapter is useful for patients and clinicians and researchers alike,” said lead author Dr. Ian de Boer. He is a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in Seattle.

The researchers hoped the supplements would be beneficial because animal studies and lab experiments had suggested that anti-inflammatory and other properties in these supplements might prevent or slow progression of kidney disease in people with type 2 diabetes.

And in humans, other research has found a link between kidney problems and low levels of vitamin D and diets lacking fish.

For the study, which was part of the nationwide Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL), the researchers looked at kidney function in more than 1,300 people with type 2 diabetes.

Study participants were randomly assigned to get vitamin D and fish oil supplements; vitamin D and a fish oil placebo; fish oil and a vitamin D placebo; or two placebos.

Over five years, kidney function declined an average of 15%. The decline occurred whether participants took supplements or not, the investigators found.

“We were hopeful for both of these interventions, vitamin D and fish oil, but they don’t appear to be particularly effective for this purpose,” de Boer said in a university news release.

About 40% of the 28 million Americans living with type 2 diabetes will develop chronic kidney disease, he noted.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It was presented concurrently at a meeting of the American Society of Nephrology, in Washington, D.C.

Source: HealthDay

Today’s Comic