Nutrition Experts in Nigeria have alleged that poverty and low level of education are the main factors responsible for persistent protein deficiency in Nigeria.
They lamented the lack of nationwide quantitative studies on the nutrient intake of Nigerians just as available data are qualitative, limited in scope/sample size or outdated.
This was position held by experts in the field at the Protein Challenge Webinar Series 5 webinar titled “Protein Deficiency: Bridging the Knowledge Gap”.
In her keynote address, a Professor of Human Nutrition in University of Calabar, Prof Henrietta Nkechi Eno-Obong identified proteins as very important in our diet because they are the most abundant nitrogen-containing compounds in the diet and the body.
“Proteins are the building blocks of the body tissues; hence they are found throughout the body. A complete protein contains all the indispensable amino acids in the appropriate amount needed by the human body.
She noted that the absence of protein in the body triggers other deficiency because protein helps to transport other nutrients to different part of the body.
Quoting the Nigerian Protein Deficiency Report 2019, she said Nigeria had a high number of children affected by malnutrition and protein deficiency.
She observed that protein deficiency had lingered on due to the low dietary diversity, monotonous diets and poor feeding habits.
Speaking on the reason for persistent protein deficiency in Nigeria, Eno-Obong said poor infant and young child feeding in terms of exclusive breastfeeding, inadequate complementary foods; poor utilisation of available food resources, poor uptake/adoption of technology.
Furthermore, she noted that low dietary diversity (monotonous diets, mono-staples), household food insecurity, lack of safe water and proper hygiene, political instability, insecurity and failure to pay attention to ethnic differences in food habits and choices as well as lack of access to culturally acceptable food are among other factors responsible for lingering protein deficiency in Nigeria.
Ene-Obong also stated that protein deficiency could manifest in Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM), which is very common in children of less than five years old just as it is the 10th leading cause of cause of death in the Nigerian population, accounting for 2.5 percent of total deaths.
“According to the most recent 2018 NDHS report, 37 percent and seven percent of children less than five years are stunted and wasted, respectively. Although wasting seems to have decreased from 18 percent in 2013 to seven percent in 2018, stunting has not really changed.”
To effectively curtail the problem of protein deficiency in the country, the don called for adequate nutrition in the first 1000 days of life, adequate adolescent and maternal nutrition, promotion and support of exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding for two years, and promotion of adequate complementary food: Plant protein alone cannot be adequate to support maximum growth and development in infants and children. Plant proteins should be supplemented with ASFs (fish, eggs, milk, etc.).
Other critical measures she suggested include:
Dietary diversification: ensuring that infants and young children consume foods from at least four food groups. These groups include) Grains, roots & tubers) Legumes & nuts;) Dairy products) Flesh foods; Eggs) Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables; 6) Other fruits & vegetables. This will ensure that some ASF will be included in the diet.
Aggressive promotion of high-quality protein sources (Soyabean and other indigenous legumes like the African yam bean, cowpea, etc.)
Production of low-cost, affordable soybean-based products; Increased food production even at household level.
Protein complementation (called mutual supplementation), e.g., “rice and beans” dish. One exception is combination of milk with legume.
Nutrition education; nutritional benefit of soybean, usage pattern, preparation and storage
“More focus should also be given to prevention strategies by appropriately utilising indigenous food resources, which Nigeria is naturally endowed with.
“Adequate protein intake is said to be necessary for growth, repairs and maintename. It is essential through out the lifecycle, although the amount needed varies according to age, sex and physiological state.”she advised.
In addition, the Chief Lecturer, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Yaba College of Technology, Dr. Ifeoma Akeredolu said that protein deficiency still lingers in Nigeria because of ignorance and poverty.
According to her many people are unaware of the dietary guidelines, adding that the food-based dietary guidelines in Nigeria are all outdated.
However, she called for a review and update of the guidelines, in accordance with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) standard. She also encouraged people to develop exciting recipes, to create variety in meal planning.