In furtherance of efforts to stem the tide of nutrition deficiencies among all age groups in the country, Nigerians have been advised to consciously improve intake of protein in their diets.
Adetunji Lawrence, Professor of Agricultural Economics, College of Agriculture, Osun State University, who made this call in a recent article, noted that the significance of proteins is often understated, whereas they offer tremendous benefits to the body. He revealed that proteins are essential for growth, repairs and replacement of worn-out cells.
According to him “The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 g/kg per body weight per day, which adequately meets the protein requirements of most individuals. Unfortunately, many Nigerians do not eat up to this amount, which accounts for the rising incidences of protein deficiency in many households.”
He explained that the human body needs to consume sufficient amounts of protein daily, noting that the protein consumption must be adequate in both the quantity and quality of its amino acids.
The University Don stated that “Proteins perform regulatory and catalytic functions in the body, as well as provide energy for biological metabolism. Proteins provide amino acids and bio-fuel for organs to function at optimal levels.”
On the types of proteins, he listed food sources such as meat, dairy, soybeans, cowpea, eggs, amongst others, but remarked that many of these foods are left out of meal due to availability and affordability. He said: “The Nigerian Protein Deficiency Report (2019) revealed that 51 per cent of Nigerian respondents do not have adequate protein-rich foods, due to high costs. The report also confirmed that the driving force for foods consumed is availability (91 per cent) and affordability (68 per cent).”
According to Professor Lawrence, “the most crucial determinant of protein consumption adequacy in terms of quantity and quality is the socio-economic class of the population. High-income earners, more than low-income earners, on average, consume a wider variety of protein foods comprising a good mix of animal and plant-based foods. Protein-rich foods are usually expensive and not all households have the purchasing power to acquire them.”
He revealed further that the recent coronavirus pandemic has also crippled many socio-economic pillars, causing malnutrition to soar across the country.
He posited that: “The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the poverty index. Protein deficiency is closely linked to poverty. The National Bureau of Statistics in its poverty and inequality report from September 2018 to October 2019 stated that 40 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. Coupled with the losses or reduced household incomes occasioned by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, this suggests that the essential and more costly protein-based foods will get further beyond the reach of Nigerians.”
Professor Lawrence advised Nigerians to increase the protein intake in their diets, to improve the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) metric, which is a scale used to determine the quality of the amino acids in food sources.
“Women, children and adolescents need indispensable amino acids in their diet for growth, development and formation of new tissue. Individuals need to turn to complete protein sources that have all the amino acids. A good example of an affordable, available complete protein source, is soybeans.“Soybeans has all the essential amino acids, and it is rich in other micronutrients like potassium, selenium and magnesium,” he added.