Overnutrition and Undernutrition of Nutrients

— Written By Lethia Lee and last updated by Patricia Burch
en Español

El inglés es el idioma de control de esta página. En la medida en que haya algún conflicto entre la traducción al inglés y la traducción, el inglés prevalece.

Al hacer clic en el enlace de traducción se activa un servicio de traducción gratuito para convertir la página al español. Al igual que con cualquier traducción por Internet, la conversión no es sensible al contexto y puede que no traduzca el texto en su significado original. NC State Extension no garantiza la exactitud del texto traducido. Por favor, tenga en cuenta que algunas aplicaciones y/o servicios pueden no funcionar como se espera cuando se traducen.

English is the controlling language of this page. To the extent there is any conflict between the English text and the translation, English controls.

Clicking on the translation link activates a free translation service to convert the page to Spanish. As with any Internet translation, the conversion is not context-sensitive and may not translate the text to its original meaning. NC State Extension does not guarantee the accuracy of the translated text. Please note that some applications and/or services may not function as expected when translated.

Collapse ▲

This is information that will be useful as you understand about malnutrition of nutrients and overnutrition of nutrients which play a vital part of our health.

Malnutrition is the condition of not getting enough or getting too much of a nutrient or nutrients. It’s the largest contributor to disease across the globe.

Overnutrition is the form of malnutrition that happens when you take in more of a nutrient or nutrients than you need every day. Energy overnutrition is common in developed countries like the United States. Undernutrition is the form of malnutrition that occurs when you don’t get enough of nutrition (or nutrients). Energy undernutrition is more common in under-developed countries.

Overnutrition of energy nutrients: It happens when you consume too much energy. Over time it causes you to gain weight unless you increase your physical activity. It doesn’t matter if those extra calories come from fat, carbohydrates or proteins, because your body can take whatever it doesn’t need and store it as fat. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Treating this kind of overnutrition requires dietary adjustments to reduce overall calories and improve the balance of the diet to include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, calcium sources and healthful protein sources with a few fats. At the same time, it helps to increase physical activity and avoid junk foods, which are foods that are high in calories but have little nutritional value. Sometimes, medical disorders such as hypothyroidism make it harder to lose excess weight.

Overnutrition of micronutrients: It is possible to get too much of most vitamins or minerals, but usually, this happens when you take megadoses of dietary supplements. Getting too much of micronutrients from food is rare. Micronutrients overnutrition can cause acute poising, like taking too many iron pills at once, or it can be chronic, for example taking large doses of vitamin B-6 over several weeks or months. The Institute of Medicine has established tolerable upper limits for most micronutrients, but the best way to avoid this type of overnutrition is to stay away from mega doses of dietary supplements unless directed by your healthcare provider. 

Undernutrition of micronutrients:  This occurs when your diet is out of balance, and it can happen whether or not you’re getting enough calories. Iron and calcium are often insufficient in the typical diet. In some cases, the deficiency is due to a disease, such as pernicious anemia that results in a lack of vitamin B-12. Symptoms usually don’t occur immediately, but problems arise over time. Micronutrient deficiencies can be treated by correcting the diet. Adding dietary supplements or treating any underlying disorders.

Undernutrition of energy nutrients:  Undernutrition is the form of malnutrition that people usually mean when they use the word malnutrition. Energy undernutrition or protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) occurs when you don’t get enough energy. Children who are undernourished suffer from weight loss and difficulties with learning and school. Underweight women frequently give birth to babies who are also underweight. There are two forms of (PEM). Starvation, sometimes called marasmus, is a severe form of malnutrition due to lack of total energy, resulting in poor growth, infertility, and even death. The body breaks down its own tissues to survive, and the body becomes emaciated in appearance.

Information obtained from Smolin LA, Grosvenor, MD Nutrition: Science and Application. Third Edition. Wiley Publishing Company 2013.

Gropper SS, Smith JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing Company 2013.

For more information on overnutrition and undernutrition of nutrients, contact Lethia Lee at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Sampson County office at 910-592-7161 or Lethia_Lee@ncsu.edu.