The role of nutrition in a person’s development is of utmost importance to their lifelong health and wellbeing. Undernutrition may occur when certain important nutrients are not consumed in the correct quantities or are not absorbed properly to the needs of the body.
Focus Ireland recently released a report which highlighted the implications of homelessness on the diet and health of families living in emergency accommodation in Ireland. Many of these families had no access to kitchen facilities and therefore relied on takeaway meals, crisps, chocolate and soft drinks every day. The report highlighted the fact that families generally had a good knowledge of nutrition and healthy eating but lacked the support in emergency accommodation to maintain a healthy diet.
Food like this is low in fibre and essential nutrients but is high in salt, sugar and fat. Eating these foods on a regular basis may lead to nutritional deficiencies, reduced immunity and delayed growth and development in children.
Reduced intake of vitamins A, C, E and minerals such as zinc and selenium can reduce immunity and lead to increased risk of infection and disease. Furthermore, increased illness can cause further emotional and economic strain on families.
Reduced intake of protein, calcium and vitamin D can impair dental and bone development and lead to long term health issues. Highly processed foods and takeaways can be lacking in these essential nutrients which puts families at risk.
Lack of fibre can cause poor digestive health. Digestive issues can cause implications for overall health and so should be monitored carefully, particularly in children.
Iron deficiency occurs regularly, particularly in those who do not consume enough iron-rich foods like red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, cereals fortified with iron and dried fruit. A diet which lacks Vitamin C can also cause low iron stores as vitamin C aids the absorption of iron in the body. Low iron stores and anaemia can impact on growth and development.
Poor nutrition can lead to problems in optimum brain development. This can have implications for memory, learning, social skills, language skills and IQ scores.
Due to the lack of facilities for food preparation, storage and cooking it is extremely difficult for these families to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. This report has laid out guidelines for the development of such facilities.
Here are some nutritious foods which are portable and require little or no preparation:
- Fruit like apples, oranges, bananas.. pick your favourite!
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Lightly salted popcorn
- Small cartons of milk
- Individual portions of cheese
- Dried fruit
- Small pots of reduced fat custard or rice pudding
- Low sugar cereal bars
Michelle Butler is a Registered Dietitian and one of the founding members of Good4U where she leads the Innovation team. Good4U’s mission is to empower people of all ages to live healthier lives and Michelle hopes that by creating healthy foods without compromising on taste or price this mission will be easily accomplished.