Dr. Beatrice Chinyem Oganah-Ikujenyo of the Department of Home Economics, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Oto/Ijanikin, Lagos says the key to addressing the problem of malnutrition in the long run is dietary diversification. She said the more we consume variety of foods, the better the chances of meeting daily nutrient needs for optimum health and well-being.
Speaking on ‘The Quest for a Protein-Centred National Food and Nutrition Policy and curbing Malnutrition in Nigeria’ during the Protein Challenge Webinar 6 Series, the nutritionist said food fortification eliminates micro-nutrient deficiencies by lowering the risk of multiple deficiencies that may result from seasonal scarcity of food or poor quality diets.
Other benefits include:
• Provides extra nutrition and maintain the body stores of the micro-nutrient more efficiently than with supplements
• It is a cost effective intervention (it is cheaper)
• It does not require change in food habits
• It does not change the characteristics of the food: the original taste, aroma, texture and appearance of the food is unchanged
Despite the benefits however, the don said food fortification also faces certain challenges as the poorest segment of the population may not have the purchasing power to buy fortified staples from the open market while fortified foods is not generally beneficial to infants and children as they consume small amount of food.
She added that the measure “is not a long term solution to micro-nutrient deficiency, dietary diversification is the key to solving micronutrient malnutrition.”
Other challenges include corruption along the production and distribution food chain, ignorance and distrust in government policies by the citizens and the issue of monitoring and quality control by both NAFDAC and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
On the way forward, Oganah-Ikujenyo listed enactment of protein-centred nutrition policy, and food and nutrition security in Nigeria.
According to her, the protein-centred policy should include:
• Exclusive Breast-feeding for the first 6 months of life
• Complimentary feeding policy with emphasis on a mixed diet (Cereal/Legume based) and continuation of breasting till child is 2 years old
• One Egg a day Nutrition for children (egg is complete nutrition and cheaper)
• School meal programme targeted at ensuring daily consumption of egg/milk by school age children
• Promote cultivation of legumes at household, commercial & Industrial levels
• Incentives to animal and legume farmers by all arms of government in terms of tax, electricity, water rates waivers and ease of access to land and loans
• Nutrition Education and Advocacy that promote consumption of legumes and animal protein plus healthy eating habits from the cradle.
• Penalties for poor agricultural and food safety practices by stakeholders
On the issue of nutrition security for the nation, the nutritionist said it could be achieved by engaging school leavers/graduates in farming activities in food production, preservation & processing to reduce post harvest losses – provide the technology at affordable rates and meal planning, food knowledge & healthy eating habits in terms of consumption.
She added that the ‘use of under-exploited foods, reduction of food wastage in the kitchen and on the plate, creation of food banks – farmers and households can keep extra food for financial returns and food hygiene and safety campaigns regarding to street foods – this should be regulated after training of food vendors also offers a positive roadmap on food security in Nigeria.