If you haven’t heard of “hidden hunger” yet, our functional medicine Toronto clinic can update you on this matter.
Hidden hunger is a phrase that describes the lack of vitamins and minerals in your body, which are needed for optimal function, such as growth and metabolism. As per a review from the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, it’s “… the presence of multiple micronutrient deficiencies (particularly iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A), which can occur without a deficit in energy intake as a result of consuming an energy-dense, but nutrient-poor diet.”
Micronutrient deficiencies are not obvious at first; but over time, they could cause detrimental effects to brain health, cellular functioning, and metabolism, potentially triggering a chronic condition or mental health issue down the road.
So why should we care about this hidden hunger? Because it’s not restricted to third-world countries; it can occur in the Western world – especially right here in Toronto – and it impacts half of the universal population. In this post, we explain why these nutritional deficiencies are discerning, and how to improve your diet with clinical nutrition and functional medicine.
Why Is This Happening?
First, know that micronutrients are compulsory for infants, children, adults and seniors to thrive. Across the world, iron, folate, vitamin A, iodine and zinc are the top deficiencies, and they all impede growth, perinatal health, and mortality.
According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the estimated amount of people suffering from micronutrients is likely underrated – this is due to “…the actual presence of the various diseases associated with poor nutrition and the simplification of diets worldwide.”
Hidden hunger can occur due to food insecurity, lack of nutritional knowledge, and the way food is prepared. The following individuals are at risk of a micronutrient deficiency:
- Those of low economic status
- Females who are of child-bearing age
- People with dietary restrictions or those who eat low-nutrient foods
- Individuals with particular health conditions (i.e., osteoporosis)
- BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities
- People who misuse pharmaceuticals, which could trigger a depletion of nutrients
Quick Fact: Did you know that iron deficiency is common worldwide? Vegetarians and vegans may be at risk of this deficiency.
Moreover, modern agricultural practices tend to focus on the size/quantity of produce. With that said, pesticides in farming can hinder nutritional significance. It may interest you to check our functional medicine guide to managing pesticide exposure in our previous blog post. And many ready-to-go, microwavable meals contain a plethora of preservatives that strip away vitamins and minerals.
Considering our Canadian surroundings, a lack of sun exposure during the winter months could trigger vitamin D deficiencies. Studies have also shown that, overall, Canadians in particular have a low adherence to food recommendations. In a recent study, Canadian adults have seemingly consumed enough macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), but “… inadequate intakes of some B vitamins and trace elements (in specific age-sex groups) and of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, and calcium were observed,” confirmed a 2021 piece from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
This hidden hunger is truly a cause for concern. So, the question begs, how do you recover from or avoid this hidden hunger?
The Functional Medicine Approach to Improving Nutrition
Education is key to alleviating micronutrient deficiencies. First, understand the importance of nutrition and micronutrients and how a lack of these could contribute to developing chronic conditions.
Next, try to cut down on preservative-laden foods and eat a variety of organic fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts, dairy, seeds, lean meat and seafood. Consider eating foods that are rich in phytonutrients, too. According to research, phytonutrients have healthy compounds that play a role in plant color, scent, and taste in the plants – so now is the time to eat a rainbow of products, like leafy greens, tomatoes, and berries.
Take note that dietary recommendations and supplements can be individualistic due to age, lifestyle and health condition. Please consult with a functional medicine practitioner to address your personal nutritional deficiencies. This type of health care provider can recommend functional medicine tests to determine what exactly you’re deficient in. After test results have been reviewed, treatment plans can be customized to suit your personal health needs. Some therapies that may be suggested at the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre include oral supplements/nutraceuticals, lifestyle modifications, intravenous infusion therapy, among others.
Quick Fact: Try to avoid foods that contain refined grains. These types of grains tend to be stripped of their phytochemicals and micronutrients due to the milling process. We suggest opting for enriched or whole grains instead.
About Our Clinic Services and Integrative Approach to Health
Integrative and functional medicine from our clinic can offer patients a wide range of traditional and natural therapies. From Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine to IV vitamin therapy and naturopathic medicine, our goal is for you to achieve optimal function.
Our personalized approach to health care identifies each patient as a single entity. By considering genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle factors, treatment plans are catered to your health goals only.
In-person and virtual consultations are available, and can be applied to numerous health concerns, such as: chronic disease, digestive issues, stress management, acid reflux, brain health, irregular periods, hormonal health, and adrenal fatigue.
Let’s customize a nutritional road map just for you! Our clinical care could provide new insights on your health status. To learn how to get functional medicine from our Toronto clinic, click here to reach us.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting a doctor. Consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website.
Ahmed M, Praneet Ng A, L’Abbe MR. Nutrient intakes of Canadian adults: results from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS)-2015 Public Use Microdata File. Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 Sep 1;114(3):1131-1140. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab143. PMID: 34020449; PMCID: PMC8408873.
Bailey R, L, West Jr. K, P, Black R, E: The Epidemiology of Global Micronutrient Deficiencies. Ann Nutr Metab 2015;66(suppl 2):22-33. doi: 10.1159/000371618
Burchi F, Fanzo J, Frison E. The role of food and nutrition system approaches in tackling hidden hunger. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Feb;8(2):358-73. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8020358. Epub 2011 Jan 31. PMID: 21556191; PMCID: PMC3084466.
“‘Hidden hunger’: U of T course examines global impacts of diets lacking key micronutrients”, University of Toronto, UofT News, published Jan. 3, 2022, viewed on Oct. 4, 2022.
Ibeanu, V.N., Edeh, C.G. & Ani, P.N. Evidence-based strategy for prevention of hidden hunger among adolescents in a suburb of Nigeria. BMC Public Health 20, 1683 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09729-8
Lowe NM. The global challenge of hidden hunger: perspectives from the field. Proc Nutr Soc. 2021 Aug;80(3):283-289. doi: 10.1017/S0029665121000902. Epub 2021 Apr 26. PMID: 33896431.
“Micronutrient Inadequacies: the Remedy” from Oregon State University, viewed on October 5, 2022.