By Veronica Ejembi
Protein deficiency is at an all-time high in Nigeria. If you think this health issue is exaggerated, then you need to take a look at the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2018 NDHS) to understand how worrisome this matter has become. The Nigeria Protein Deficiency Report 2019 was equally sobering.
Protein is very important for productivity, growth and development. Simply put, without protein, nothing works and for individuals to be healthy, the inclusion of protein in the diets is paramount.
Protein is needed not only at the beginning of life but also at different stages of life. The amount of protein required by various individuals depends on age, gender, and physiological conditions such as growth, pregnancy, and lactation. Protein consumption must be taken seriously by all age groups.
Protein consumption in Nigeria is determined by various factors such as availability, affordability, taste, nutritional value, culture, and fondness for certain protein-rich foods. For us to overcome the menace of protein deficiency, there is a need to address the above factors to help boost the consumption of protein-rich foods.
In the quest to find a lasting solution, soybean has been tipped as the ‘Miracle Bean’ capable of tackling protein deficiency. Soybeans are also known as ‘meat without bones’ and have been recognised as plant food that is relatively high in protein compared with other plants and even some animals.
The protein in soybeans is of good quality, supports growth in children and contains high functional properties like lecithin and sadonins. Also, soybeans contain essential amino acids that are beneficial to the body and should be combined with all the food groups that make up a balanced diet.
The importance of soybeans in the war against protein deficiency has not gone unnoticed. In the recent Protein Challenge Webinar themed Nigeria’s Protein Deficiency Challenge: Soybeans to the Rescue, nutrition experts convened to discuss how soybeans can be incorporated not only into meals but also the way of life of Nigerians. Find highlights from the session below:
• Nutrition Education on Benefits of Soybeans
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has endorsed soybean as an ingredient in complementary food, due to its ability to provide a single-source availability of adequate levels of essential amino acids of high biological value.
When soybean is combined with other foods like whole grains, milk and eggs it helps children grow taller naturally. They can also be added to cereals to improve the protein content and supply essential nutrients for the body to stay healthy. The benefits of soybeans are not restricted to children alone. In adults, soybean meals can improve immunity and quality of life.
Soybeans are versatile. There should be community nutrition education on the benefits of soybean consumption. In many instances, it would require collaboration between the private and the public sectors. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have to be actively involved in educating Nigerians not just on the ills of protein deficiency but also the different ways and benefits of using soybeans to combat protein deficiency.
Women, especially, should be empowered, through education, with the nutritional and health benefits of soybeans. They should be taught how best to introduce this ‘Miracle Bean’ creatively in meal planning in their homes.
• Increase Acceptability of Soybeans
People do not go to the market to buy protein, minerals or vitamins, but food. Food is not just about nutrients; it is about cultural acceptability. In Nigeria, the food sources that are frequently eaten are not necessarily the healthiest. It is usually socially acceptable and available.
Soybeans are a protein-rich food source. It is locally available. It now needs to be repackaged to become acceptable. Also, there is the need to rebrand soybean as a product that is not just for the poor but for everyone, particularly for the health-conscious.
Soybeans should be made readily available. To achieve this, production should be increased to match demand. Besides, to ensure that it catches on fast, there should be a policy for feed millers to incorporate soy flour into wheat flour production. Bakers and confectionary firms can equally add soy flour at the point of production to promote acceptability and improve the nutrient value of the products.
• Explore Soy Products
There are varieties of soybean products that can be utilised in our diets. Products such as soy milk, soy sauce, tofu, soybean oil, soy flour, soy cake, soy nut butter, and soy-based infant formula, among others, should be adequately explored in the fight against protein deficiency.
Every one of these soy products screams protein. Protein is needed to build protection against infections, boost the immune system and serve as a good source of energy.
It is time for Nigerians to be soy-centred. To start, every one of us should keep soy flour in our kitchens and incorporate soy products into meals. Soybean is the key to defeating protein deficiency. It is healthy, protein-rich, readily available and easily accessible.
Don’t snooze on this ‘golden legume’.