Are homeless people overfed but undernourished?

Nicole Berberian-Alabaster
TV & Media Nutritionist

In recent research, results have shown that homeless people are increasingly dying of strokes. In order to find out if the homeless are being overfed, yet undernourished, we spoke with nutrition expert Nicole Berberian-Alabaster.

What is research telling us about the diets of homeless people?

Studies on the homeless find that they are indeed not getting what they need nutritionally. They found this group is low in fruit, fibre, protein, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, and for women, iron. Milk and calcium intake were also low. However, the results showed a high level of alcohol, salt and saturated fats.

What is the impact of a poor diet?

The effects of an unbalanced diet mean that the average age of death in this group is just 47 years, with the leading cause of death being cardiovascular disease.

Mental illness is higher in the homeless too, with a link to high alcohol use and lows in the important B vitamin thiamin.

Thiamin is already low in this kind of diet, but alcohol makes this worse by blocking it coming into the body. The result is even lower thiamin.

Low thiamin leads to a serious mental health and brain condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome. The effects are confusion, impaired coordination of limbs, memory problems and brain damage, along with heart failure.

The drug-free way and starting point to improve both these conditions, and the many other related health issues, is diet.

Could you suggest a healthy menu that would work best for our guests?

My idea of the perfect healthy menu would look a little like this…

Vegetable soup: Onions, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, lentils.

Main meal: Pork, chicken or beef. Whole grain bread, pasta, potatoes or rice. Plus seasonal vegetables.

Dessert: Fresh Fruit served with yoghurt, or make an oat crumble and include dry fruit.

You can find lots more on nutrition on Nicole’s website.