The role of nutrition in health and development cannot be overemphasized as it forms an integral part of health planning, whether at the individual, domestic, sub-national or national level. Hence, there is a need for a protein-centred policy to ensure healthy eating and nutrition among Nigerians.
This was the submission by Dr Adepeju Adeniran, co-founder and national chair of the Nigerian chapter of Women in Global Health, at the Protein Challenge Webinar Series 6 which held recently. The webinar was themed: ‘A Case for A Protein-Centered National Nutritional Policy.’
She explained that the lack of proper protein diet often results in life-threatening consequences, ranging from mild to more serious forms of protein deficiencies.
“A healthy diet consists of carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and minerals. The recommended ratio is 45 to 55 per cent carbohydrate, 10 to 35 per cent protein, 5 per cent healthy fats and the inclusion of fibre.
However, in a typical Nigerian household, many people do not consume proteins due to the high cost,” Dr Adeniran said.
“Data extracted from the Nigerian Protein Deficiency survey report showed that about 51 per cent of the survey respondents did not have access to protein-rich foods because of the costs,” she added.
She advised that there should be lifelong learning about the benefits of protein in public spaces like hospitals, primary health care centres, community and even religious centres. Human education can be carried out by nurses, community health workers and community leaders.
She added that for every household to have access to proteins, such foods should be made available in the market and affordable, with the government offering subsidies where and when necessary.
Also speaking at the event, Dr Beatrice Oganah-Ikujenyo, a seasoned nutritionist and chief lecturer at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, stated that for productivity, growth and development, protein with other micronutrients is very important.
She added that the current Food and Nutrition policy is the 2016 nutritional plan, which, though targeted at solving and ensuring food security, urgently needs to be updated as the plan suffers challenges in implementation. She then called for the establishment of the Ministry of Food and Nutrition for easy implementation of a national nutrition policy.
She stated that barriers to the implementation of the Food and Nutrition policy include viewing of nutrition as a multi-sectoral issue and the dearth of nutritionists because of the difficulty in setting up departments of Nutrition in tertiary institutions. Other barriers are instability of government and government policies, as well as a lack of goodwill from government.
Another panelist, Dr Omadeli Boyo, physician and medical director, Pinecrest Specialist Hospital, said that over 80 per cent of geriatrics are malnourished. He noted that only 17 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed within the first six months of life and that two million children in Nigeria currently suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). He lamented that 2 out of 10 children suffering from malnutrition in the country cannot be reached by healthcare officials.
“The case for protein policy must be given utmost importance. Stunting and wasting are prevalent in Nigeria and it has consequences that stretch from childbirth to tertiary level of education. If we do not nourish our children with protein-rich diets, they will struggle to pass the university entrance examination (UME) or reach the tertiary level of education due to stunted development,” he explained.
Dr Oganah-Ikujenyo urged Nigerians to take advantage of the easily accessible protein-rich foods such as soybeans, eggs, peas, mushrooms, Bambara nuts (okpa), locust beans (iru), African yam beans, scent leaf (Effinrin), African Rosewood leaf (Oha), and groundnuts.