Malnutrition is when you do not get enough calories or nutrients to keep you healthy. Nutrients include protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Causes of Malnutrition
Malnutrition can happen when you do not eat enough or when there is:
A lack of variety in your diet.
Decreased absorption of nutrients.
An increased need for nutrients.
Both underweight and overweight people can be malnourished. It can be treated or reversed to help you improve your strength and well-being.
Malnourishment and Health
Being malnourished can affect your health. It can:
Increase your risk of infection and decrease your ability to fight it off.
Increase your risk of getting pressure ulcers and decrease your ability to heal them.
Decrease your muscle mass. This can lead to weakness and makes it hard to do normal activities.
Increase your hospital length of stay.
Increase your risk for readmission.
Increase your health care costs.
Signs of Malnutrition
Poor food intake
Weight loss without trying
Loss of muscle mass
Loss of fat stores
Ways to Increase Nutrition
Eat small, frequent meals and snacks all day long.
Include a source of protein at every meal and snack. This includes meats, beans, tofu, eggs, nuts, milk, yogurt, cheese or ice cream.
Schedule time to eat and follow it, even if you do not feel hungry. Set an alarm to remind yourself to eat every 3 to 4 hours.
Plan your biggest meal of the day when you feel the best.
Eat meals in a place that is nice and relaxed.
Avoid low-calorie or low-fat food. Add fat and oils to foods to help increase calories.
Drink fluids that give you calories, such as milk, juice, or smoothies.
Drink most fluids between meals instead of with meals. Fluids can take up space in your stomach which can cause you to eat less.
Take vitamins or minerals as directed.
Talk to your doctor about an appetite stimulant.
Work with physical therapy to help build strength and muscle mass.
See your primary care doctor and a registered dietitian after you get home.
Who to Call
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions, please call us at one of the phone numbers listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and
Clinics (UWHC) and American Family
Children’s Hospital (AFCH) can be reached
at (608) 890-5500.
Nutrition clinics for UW Medical
Foundation (UWMF) can be reached at
If you are a patient receiving care at UnityPoint – Meriter, Swedish American or a health system outside of UW Health, please use the phone numbers provided in your discharge instructions for any questions or concerns.