This blog post is sponsored by Nutricia to help educate you about malnutrition.

Malnutrition affects billions of people worldwide and can lead to serious health issues. 

In Australia, malnutrition affects approximately 10 – 30% of people living in the community, with the prevalence being higher in older people and those with certain diseases such as cancer. 

But despite being a major public health issue – one that is both preventable and manageable – lack of awareness means that malnutrition often goes unrecognised and unmanaged. 

So, let’s have a look at what malnutrition actually is and the causes and signs to look out for. 

Plus, we’ll delve into how it can be managed, which may be vital information for you or a loved one.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition occurs when a person’s diet does not provide enough, or the right balance, of nutrients for optimal health.

This imbalance impacts the body’s ability to function as it normally should and can lead to serious short- and long-term health effects. 

What causes malnutrition?

There is no one single cause of malnutrition. Rather malnutrition can be caused by a myriad of factors, which can often cross over. 

Some causes of malnutrition include:

  • Illness – illness such as cancer, stroke & liver, kidney or lung disease, among other conditions, can lead to malnutrition. These conditions, along with their treatments, can reduce appetite, cause feelings of nausea, tiredness & swallowing difficulties and impact one’s overall quality of life. This can result in the person eating less or less optimally. This, combined with the increased nutrition needs due to the illness, can often lead to malnutrition. Other conditions like irritable bowel disease can lead to malnutrition as the body’s ability to absorb nutrients is reduced.
  • Access to food – reduced or limited access to food, whether due to physical limitations, socio economic situations, or physical reasons, can lead to malnutrition. Examples of this could include those who can’t afford to buy healthy food or the elderly who can’t prepare their own food anymore.
  • Inadequate intake of nutrient rich foods – whether intentional or unintentional, a high consumption of nutrient poor foods like highly processed foods, or lack of consumption of nutrient rich foods, can lead to malnutrition.

What are the signs of malnutrition?

While you may assume that malnutrition only occurs in people below a healthy weight, people above their healthy weight can also become malnourished. This is because the food you eat and drink can give you energy, but you can still be lacking in the essential nutrients your body needs.

If you are worried that you, or someone you know, may be suffering from malnutrition, these are some common signs of malnutrition to look out for:

  • Reduced appetite or disinterest in food
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Inability to think and concentrate 
  • General feeling of being unwell
  • Getting sick often and taking longer to recover
  • Changes in mood and feeling sad or depressed

Take the malnutrition quiz to find out if you’re at risk or share the quiz with someone you think may be at risk.

How can malnutrition be managed and treated?

There are 5 key steps to managing and treating malnutrition. 

Step 1:  Seek help from a healthcare professional
The first step to managing and treating malnutrition is to seek help. If you think that you, or someone you know, could be malnourished, please speak to your healthcare professional. 

A healthcare professional like a Dietitian, will be able to complete a malnutrition assessment, provide an official diagnosis and advise on the best management plan and treatment.

Step 2: Ensure a healthy balanced diet
Once a medical professional is onboard, it’s likely that a malnutrition treatment plan will be put into place which includes ensuring the malnourished person is eating a healthy balanced diet (or receiving this through tube feeding).

A healthy balanced diet will include eating foods that contain carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. These are all essential so the body can function properly and recover.  

Step 3: Increase nutrient intake
It’s very important to ensure that the energy (calorie) and protein needs of someone with malnutrition are met. Protein, made of building blocks called amino acids, is needed to help build, maintain and repair muscle, skin and other body tissues such as bone. A protein deficiency can negatively impact immunity and one’s ability to recover from an illness, so it’s needed by those with malnutrition.

Daily nutritional support will often be recommended to help meet these energy and protein requirements, along with other essential nutrients for good health. This can be in a liquid form, like a product such as Fortisip Compact Protein* that I used to recommend for patients when I worked as an aged care Dietitian and in private practice.

Fortisip Compact Protein is a compact 125ml ready-to-drink, high energy, high protein oral nutritional supplement shake. My patients found it very convenient as it’s high in calories (300kcal), high in protein (18g) and contains 28 vitamins and minerals. In fact, it has a similar protein amount as three eggs (per bottle) to assist in maintaining muscle mass. 

Fortisip Compact Protein can be used to help someone with malnutrition meet their daily nutritional needs when their usual diet is not enough, are struggling with appetite or eating less, or have higher requirements due to illness.

Here is a recipe for a smoothie using the Strawberry Flavour Fortisip Compact Protein.

RECIPE: High Energy & Protein Strawberry Peanut Butter Smoothie

1x 125ml Strawberry Fortisip Compact Protein (chilled)
1 frozen banana
1 Tbs peanut butter**
2 Tbs oats
Handful of ice

Place all ingredients into a high speed blender and blitz until smooth and creamy. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

If you wish to learn more about Fortisip Compact Protein or order a sample, please click here.

Step 4: Use strategies to help you stick to your malnutrition treatment plan
Using strategies like the following, can help you stick to your malnutrition treatment plan from your healthcare professional and recover:

  • Eat regularly throughout the day, rather than one or two large meals. Using the clock and eating at regular times (e.g. every 2 hours) can help.
  • Choose nutritious foods you enjoy. You’ll be more likely to eat healthy foods and meet your nutrition requirements if you choose foods that you like.
  • Get support – if you are struggling with food shopping or cooking, ask a family member or friend for help, or ask your healthcare professional to assist in arranging this.
  • If you struggle with reduced appetite, try having small amounts of food more often, so you don’t fill up too quickly. 

Step 5: Stay physically active. Under the guidance of your healthcare professional, staying physically active can help with recovery and can make you feel good, both physically and mentally. 

*Please note: Fortisip Compact Protein is a Food For Special Medical Purposes and must be used under medical supervision.

**Allergy statement: contains nuts.