The journey of life runs from childbirth to senescence. One activity that remains constant throughout this journey is daily nutrition. The foods we consume daily constitute our daily diets, which is connected to our health and wellbeing.
We must certainly eat and nourish ourselves regularly for our nutrition, growth and development. Nutrition involves more than simply eating a “good” diet; it is about nourishment on every level. This includes eating balanced, quality food, drinking clean water and eating natural fruits with nutritious value.
An aspect of nutrition that has been neglected, especially in Nigeria, is protein nutrition. Protein nutrition is the formation of a diet that has a larger protein percentage per calorie than carbohydrates, lipids, and fat.
Calories are micro-units of energy that constitute the basic nutrients in all food sources. However, modern Nigerian diets usually emphasize carbohydrates and fats as the main course, while relegating proteins to the background.
The Nigeria Protein Deficiency report shows that proteins are rarely included in regular diets across all states. Highlights of the report indicate that carbohydrates are the most consumed food amongst Nigerians. Rice topped the list with 91 per cent, closely followed by ‘swallows’ (such as eba, pounded yam, etc.) at 83 per cent.
This shows the predominance of carbohydrates over protein rich-foods, which cuts across all regions in the nation.
Further analysis revealed that other carbohydrates like bread and pasta are consumed in large quantities, making up over 80 per cent of the daily diets, especially amongst the lower socio-economic classes.
This is a far cry from the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a food nutrient needed to meet the basic nutritional requirements. In a sense, it is the minimum amount the body needs to keep from getting ill — not the specific amount that is supposed to be eaten every day.
The implication of this dietary habit of consuming high carbohydrate, high-calorie foods is protein deficiency. This deficiency is a lack of essential protein nutrients in the daily diet and it is the consequence of primary malnutrition that occurs when there is no protein in our staple food.
Protein deficiency is strongly associated with ill health, as both a cause and consequence. People who are protein deficient are more susceptible to diseases and infections due to a weakened immune system and tend to take longer to recover from incidents of illness.
Protein deficiency invariably leads to a plethora of illnesses, including marasmus, psoriasis, edema, stunting and kwashiorkor. Kwashiorkor is a condition whereby an individual’s bio ketogenic cells are being burnt out in the body to sustain the internal metabolism of the human system.
The resulting symptoms include severe weight loss, swollen abdomen, and hair loss.
No state in Nigeria is free of protein deficiency and many families in rural and urban communities struggle with all of these forms of protein-energy deficiencies at the same time.
Nigeria can resolve these issues and build a stable, healthy future. The question is, how? The solution is protein nutrition.
Protein nutrition must be given priority. The regular nutrition pattern must gradually change and all dietary intakes should have some form of protein food source. This will go a long way to reduce the levels of protein deficiency in the nation.
The government could enact a protein-centred food policy that would involve adding proteins to staple foods during processing to enhance their nutritional quality.
The government could also develop protein-centred plans, decisions and strategies in food cultivation, production, processing, packaging and consumption; ensuring that proteins are utilized to augment food sources.
An effective approach will be to create public awareness of the benefits of a protein-centred nutrition. People should be encouraged to eat soybeans, legumes, groundnuts, eggs, quinoa daily. The Nigeria Protein Awareness Campaign or Protein Challenge is one of the players operating in this space. Protein Challenge is a protein pull media campaign that seeks to create awareness about the prevalence, status and impact of protein deficiency in Nigeria.
Proteins should be the main course. The narrative should be “more protein, more life”, as every cell in the human body contains protein. We all need protein in our diets to help our bodies repair cells and make new ones. Proteins are also important for growth and development in children, teens, and pregnant women.
Once people begin to grasp the tremendous benefits proteins offer, nutritious habits nationwide will change.
Life, they say, is a process, and a child that is born today cannot become an adult overnight; so is healthy nutrition. It is a gradual process.
Protein nutrition will pave the way for a healthy future.
Reginald Onabu, Researcher and Public Relations Officer, Writes from Lagos.