By Beatrice Chinyem Oganah-Ikujenyo |
The World Food Day (WFD) is an international day celebrated every year around the world on October 16, in honour of the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945. FAO is a specialised agency of the UN that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security.
This year’s #WorldFoodDay marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of FAO and has the theme, “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future.” The aim is to highlight how food and agriculture are an essential part of the response to ameliorating the effect of the COVID 19 pandemic.
FAO is calling for co-operation and solidarity to help the most vulnerable (low-income earners, children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating mothers) to recover from the crisis of hunger and malnutrition, by making food systems more resilient and robust so that they can deliver healthy and sustainable diets to all. This year’s theme and aim of the WFD is timely and appropriate for Nigeria, considering the statistics on malnutrition and hunger; especially protein and micro-nutrient deficiency, particularly among children under five years, school-age children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating mothers. Plus, of course, the elderly.
To mark the day, the FAO seeks to celebrate the people who produce, plant, harvest, fish or transport food. It equally calls on the public to appreciate those that it tagged #FoodHeroes, who have continued to provide food for their communities and beyond.
Food is one of the primary needs of life and survival. Adequate nutrition ensures good health and longevity. The process of getting adequate nutrition is always dependent on an individual and family’s feeding habits and pattern. Food habits are developed over time and begin with the family orientation, that is the family and culture one is born into. So, family background, culture and environment are the primary determinants of one’s feeding habits and pattern. Other factors affecting food habits are income, education, health status, food supply, occupation and social status.
In the recent past, there has been a nutrition transition from the consumption of natural local foods to the consumption of processed foreign/new foods, which are as a result of technological advancement. These processed foods are high in refined starch, fats and sugar.
This trend has been adopted more by the younger generation across all income groups and has now become a fad. Little attention is paid to the nutritional adequacy of these foods, and the food processing industry has expanded with its seemly economic benefits. With the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic early this year and the economic downturn, the consumption of these foods, popularly called ‘fast foods’, even among affluent families, has reduced, for economic reasons. This is the time to adjust our food habits to begin consuming more of our locally produced natural foods, especially legumes – soybeans in particular – to boost protein intake and prevent protein deficiency among all age groups. This can be achieved if creative, exciting and innovative recipes are developed and this is where meal complementation with legumes is key.
Food, apart from being a physical necessity for life, health and wellbeing, also represents an emotional preference for many. Some meals or dishes are attached to certain moods, particularly in the developed world where food is produced in abundance. For example, we are told that if you are “bored,’’ you should go for ice cream.; ‘’Sa,’’ take chocolate. Happy? Pizza fits the mood.
However, in Africa, Nigeria in particular, where the quantity of food available for consumption is highly inadequate, and therefore expensive and unaffordable for the majority, even before COVID 19, the situation is now compounded and made most expensive by the pandemic. The economic impact of the pandemic, including job losses, inflation, increased cost of transportation, bad road network, are real.
What slogan can we develop as an emotional expression for our local foods? We eat to satisfy hunger and to survive and not necessarily to meet nutritional requirements because the majority have poor knowledge of nutrition. We also eat what is available and affordable for economic reasons. Therefore, solving nutrition problems in Nigeria will require a multifaceted approach at the individual, household, community, industrial and policy-making levels.
Protein is one of the macronutrients. It is unique in function because apart from its functions of promoting growth, replacing and repairing worn-out and damaged tissues, boosting the immune system and offering protections against infections, it is an important component of blood and the hormones. Protein also provides energy in the absence of other energy-giving macro-nutrients – fats and carbohydrates. However, the energy-providing function of protein is not beneficial since when this occurs, it abandons its primary function and leads to muscle wasting. (This is one of the mechanisms used for weight loss by overweight and obese persons).
The major cause of protein deficiency in humans is inadequate consumption of protein in meals. Proteins can be found in foods of both animal and plant origin (especially in legumes – pulses and oilseeds). In Nigeria, apart from inadequate intake of protein as the primary cause of protein deficiency, high consumption of carbohydrates in the form of cereals (rice, maize, sorghum, millet), tubers and plantain is prevalent. This is manifested in the way we plate our meals. The carbohydrate and other food nutrients on the plate are in the ratio of 5:1. For example, a typical Nigerian plate for lunch of ‘swallow’ or rice-based dish is 80 per cent ‘swallow’ (Eba, Amala, Tuwo or Pounded yam) to 20 per cent soup (containing vegetables, beef/fish and spices) for all ages. For younger children, the beef/fish and soup content is even less than 20 per cent.
Studies have shown over the years, the prevalence of protein deficiency in Nigeria, especially among the vulnerable stated above (WHO/UNICEF 2001, 2017; NBC 2018; National Protein Deficiency Survey NPDS 2019). This deficiency manifests in the form of low-birth-weight, stunting, wasting, underweight and the burden of infectious diseases, and its complications, as a result of low immunity. There is also the burden of overweight and obesity co-existing with undernutrition. So, we have a double burden of disease. However, that is a subject for another day. The presence of protein in plants (mainly legumes – cowpea, locally called beans, soybeans, groundnut, lentils, black beans kidney beans, lima beans, jack beans, green peas, almond, cashew nuts pigeon pea, bambara (okpa), melon, sesame seed, oil bean seed, etc.) and animal food sources like meat, seafood, milk, eggs, milk, etc. does not mean that the quality of the proteins from both sources is the same.
This year’s World Food Day celebration will open a definite window in respect of food and nutrition policy, to facilitate the implementation of all advocated programmes over the years. Its impact on the food chain will be positive in making nutritious food available to all at a reasonable cost and on time. This will positively impact on the protein deficiency situation and reduce malnutrition in Nigeria.
– Dr. Oganah-Ikujenyo, PhD, is a nutrition expert, home economist and wrote from Lagos