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How to Prevent Protein Deficiency During COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the food quality of millions of families in Nigeria and around the world, a nutrition expert says there are immediate measures that families could take to effectively prevent protein deficiency and the associated issue of malnutrition during the pandemic.

Dr. Beatrice Chinyem Oganah-Ikujenyo of the Department of Home Economics, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Oto/ Ijanikin in Lagos, said in a paper she delivered on ‘Protein Deficiency in a Pandemic’ at the Protein Deficiency Webinar Series 4, that there is need for food complementation and supplementation to meet daily protein, vitamin and mineral requirements respectively to help improve health and vitality of the body.

She added that change in lifestyle – going back to the days where every family have a cultivated land for food crops (okra, leafy vegetables, plantain, etc) will also reduce the pressure on the available food for sale in the market. She also suggested consumption of edible insects (Entomophagy) – which was common practice in the 70s and 80s as they contain high quality protein & vitamins.

Oganah-Ikujenyo said the protein deficiency problem became manifest because the first reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic was the lockdown nationwide which shut down all economic activities.

“All farm produce were trapped in farms/storage and points of production which led to deterioration of perishable foods and disconnect in the food supply chain- resulting in food scarcity and increase in price of available foods. Job losses due to the shutdown and resultant dwindling family income affected food choices in terms of quantity, quality, variety and food preferences. Therefore, specific nutrient deficiency is likely to occur, especially protein deficiency among the vulnerable (infants, young children, pregnant and lactating mothers).”

The don listed the category of people most likely to suffer protein deficiency during a pandemic to include:

  • Infants and children under five years
  • School age children (6 – 12 years)
  • Adolescents (11 – 19years)
  • Pregnant and lactating mothers

“These persons are vulnerable in normal times and much more at risk in a pandemic due to the socio-economic and psychological consequences of pandemics.”

And the reasons for such vulnerability according to her include:

  • Demand for growth, puberty and maturation
  • Additional requirements of pregnancy and lactation
  • High cost of food, especially animal protein which is higher in biological value than plant protein
  • Dwindling resources spent on food as a result of increase in costs of living as a result of the pandemic
  • Poor knowledge of nutrition and poor feeding habits
  • Ignorance of healthy methods of cooking that conserve nutrients

She mentioned the functions of proteins as–growth, tissue building and maintenance; contributes energy in fasting state or during extended energy effort; important components of enzymes and hormones and helps to maintain acid base balance, just to mention a few.

Oganah-Ikujenyo also lamented the prevailing high cost of protein products in the country, saying that animal proteins (beef, mutton, pork, poultry, game and seafood) are more expensive because of the cost of breeding, producing and processing when compared with plant protein.

“There are however some plant protein foods that are comparable to animal protein, for example, soybean. Groundnut, locust bean and sesame seeds contain significant amount of protein & are also very good sources of oils, hence rich in fat soluble vitamins while plant proteins are cheaper in cost.”

She said the protein requirement for humans differ according to age and physiological status thus:

  • Protein for growth
  • Maintenance and replacement of tissues
  • Pregnancy and lactation
  • Disease conditions

“Finally, planning family meals helps one to make better food choices in terms of adequacy and adds variety to meals which further increases the chances of eating right.”

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