As early as 5.am on this particular Thursday at the popular Oshodi Bus Stop in Lagos, Mr. Micheal Olayinka, was devouring a fully-loaded plate of hot white rice and stew garnished with some pieces of beef. It was apparent that he needed to fill his stomach and get ready for the day’s task ahead of him.
Before anyone could say Jack Robinson, the plate was empty. He went further to demand a bottle of 75cl soft drink. In about seven minutes or so, he has eaten the food and simultaneously gushed the drink. And he belched satisfactorily. He paid his bill, and disappeared into the crowd of other impatient Lagos residents.
Dieticians and nutritionists have repeatedly said that all consumers deserve the right not just to food, but to healthy food. Despite this right, the rise in diet related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers represents a major national and international public health crisis.
In Nigeria, the number of overweight and obese people, underweight and malnourished children have continued to rise and, to date, reversing the increase appears to be an impossible task in the near future. Stunted growth is ravaging children in different parts of Nigeria.
Nigeria has the highest number of people suffering from diabetes in Africa, according to Diabetes Association of Nigeria (DAN). Also, other non-communicable diseases, such as oral health diseases, hypertension, and others have gradually found their ways into the homes of many Nigerians as a result of consistent poor eating habit. Findings have shown that for those who throw caution into the wind while choosing what they eat, are either eating to self-destruction or to the grave.
No doubt, lack of access to information and pervasive ignorance about the right choice of nourishment has been identified as the major factors militating against proper nutrition in children and adults in Nigeria. Many experts have raised the alarm that the western influences on Nigerians’ diet and lifestyle are playing a major role in all the health issues the country is grappling with at the moment.
A consultant nutritionist, who is the former President, Dieticians Association of Nigeria, Dr. Chika Ndiokwelu told Daily Sun that most Nigerians were taking their diet for granted. She enlightened that diet is part of lifestyle that should not be handled with levity.
The expert raised the alarm that most of the non-communicable diseases ravaging humanity today were linked to either consumption of wrong foods or unhealthy eating habit. Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) are medical conditions, which are chronic in nature, non-contagious and cannot be transmitted from one person to another. They reduce the quality of life of the affected individuals and can also lead to death.
On the need for adequate nutrition and lifestyle, she said that the diets that Nigerians consume in all their cultural variety, define to a large extent people’s health, growth and development.
She advised Nigerians to eat foods with the orientation of taking them as medicines. She stressed that eating the right foods with the needed nutritional values and eating them appropriately would go a long way in sending away diverse illnesses.
She revealed that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. But she said it was unfortunate that many people still make a habit out of skipping it. Doing so not only drains you of energy, but also makes it more likely that you will snack throughout the day, she warned.
Buttressing Ndiokwelu point, Dr. Walter Ifeanyi told Daily Sun reporter that skipping breakfast also disrupts one’s metabolism, causing the person to burn fewer calories. The expert added that eating large amounts of food in one sitting was another unhealthy eating habit that needed to be avoided.
He said: “eating too close to bedtime will also give you sleeping difficulty since your body will be busy digesting food. Meal should be taken three or four hours before going to bed.”
Ndiokwelu raised the alarm over the rate at which people consume sugar, soft drinks, fat and processed foods. She described the habit as a disturbing development that needed to be checked in order to achieve a healthy Nigeria. She said that eating too much sugar is associated with all sorts of diseases, such as: Obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many more.
She said industrial vegetable oil sold in the markets contain high percentage of fatty acid as trans-fats, which are highly toxic. But her warning does not apply to olive oil, which said is healthy for the body.
She explained: “Diet is our lifestyle. When we are talking of our diet or lack of proper diet, we are looking at those types of foods we eat that could cause problem to our health in the future. Then the issue of non-communicable diseases comes to mind. There are foods that have been identified that could create problems to humans. Such foods are usually fast foods.
“We are worried about those foods because they contain saturated fat and sugar, which is their peculiarity. They are especially pastries, such as doughnut, meat-pie, and fish-pie. If those foods are eaten occasionally, there won’t be a problem but most people have turned them to everyday food. They are always high in sodium, which is salt; they are prepared with refined flour, sugar, baking powder, margarine and others. There are some people, especially the young one, when they want to take a cup of tea, they add five cubes of sugar.
“Also worrisome is that most of the meats they sell in fast food outlets are always fried. They don’t just fry them; they are fried in such a way that you see oil drizzling from them. The issue is that some people no longer cook at home; they rely on these fast foods. They eat burger, pizza, meat-pie everyday and they wash it down with soft drink. That is their regular meal and that is where the problem comes.
“Even in our local foods, most times, we add a lot of bleached oil, which is not healthy. People like fried foods for whatever reason best known to them. Some of them go as far as using the same oil repeatedly, which is very dangerous. Ordinary, oil from plant sources are healthier than oil from animal sources. But the thing is that any oil that you buy and later congeal, then you need to know that the oil is not original. It is healthier to leave the palm oil naturally the way it is rather than bleaching it. The process of bleaching the oil, then it becomes more saturated and it will then contain less nutrients. It also triggers off other unhealthy reactions in the oil that were not there in the first place.
“Then, you see some people using margarine and abusing it. All over the world, there is campaign against it because of the type of unhealthy fat it contains. If you want to spread something on your children’s bread, you can use peanut or groundnut butter, which contain protein and fat.
“When it comes to the adolescent, many of them prefer processed foods. Mind you, the manufacturers of those processed foods such as noodles, always advise consumers to take them as a meal. It means that you are to add other ingredients to it. But most of the consumers don’t add anything; they simply boil and eat. Without adding any ingredient, all you have there is starch. What I am talking about could either be over-nutrition or under-nutrition. The former leads to overweight while the latter lead to malnourishment and stunt growth in the case of children.”
The expert disclosed that one does not necessarily need to be wealthy before he or she could achieve a healthy diet. She maintained that moderation in everything one eats was the key needed to achieving good health. She stressed that improving nutrition is the most fundamental and impact way of tackling non-communicable diseases.
She emphasised the need for parents to increase the amount of healthy food that are only starched based against of processed carbohydrate. She called for the need to increase the amount of vegetables and fruits given to their children, even in their lunch bags to school.
Her words: “I recommend that starting from pregnancy, the woman should eat adequate diet that contains carbohydrate, protein, whether from vegetable or animal, and beans family. There is the need for her to take a lot of fruits and vegetable.
“After the delivery, the baby should be given exclusive breast feeding for six months. When the child grows and starts school, he should eat adequate diet and be involved in physical activity. The same thing goes to the adults. Adults should avoid junk foods. One can take them occasionally and there may not be any problem.
“Adults also must increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and fibre they eat. The aged are not left out. They can as well engage in light physical activity. They must limit the amount of salt they consume. They should only take iodized salt. When you add enough seasoning to your foods, you may not need salt in the food anymore because the seasoning contains salt. They should eat good oil, which does not solidify easily.
“Living a healthy lifestyle can prevent one from suffering these non-communicable diseases that is on the increase every day. Even somebody that is genetically at risk to have the disease may have narrowed the chances of being infected. Living a good lifestyle can actually moderate the age some diseases come visiting the person, especially if he is genetically disposed to such ailment.
“If u work in an environment where the possibility of skipping meals is high, it is important that you eat good breakfast that contains carbohydrate. It will supply you enough glucose in the blood that will keep you going for the day. Breakfast is very important because it boosts immunity in the body.
“Then lunch should be the biggest meal of the day. Note, biggest does not mean that you eat the food meant for two persons. The amount of food you eat should be determined by the type of activity you are involved in. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, then you can’t eat like that man who digs the gutter or pushes wheelbarrow out there.
“As a dietician, I have been calling on organisations to have in-house canteens that will prepare wholesome food for workers. We are advocating adequate diet, whether at home or workplace.”
Benefits of healthy whole foods
We live in a society that eats so much processed and manufactured food, that it becomes difficult for a layman to identify which and what qualifies as a whole food. Experts have said that whole foods might be organic, or locally grown, or pesticide-free. But they aren’t necessarily all the time.
The definition of healthy whole foods is much simpler in this manner: “When you eat whole foods, you are getting the food in its natural state. You are getting it intact, with all of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are in the food,” says a nutritionist.
Basically, it’s the healthy whole food, rather than the bits that remain after refinement and processing. It’s the difference between an apple and apple juice, or a baked potato and mashed potatoes. While whole foods might be associated with the upscale grocery store of the same name, they are available to all of us anywhere in the country. Most dieticians believe that eating healthy whole foods has all sorts of benefits, especially as their nutrients may help to keep one’s immune system strong and protect the individual from disease.
“If you are trying to eat a healthier diet, relying on more whole foods is a great place to start. For instance, when whole grains are refined, the bran and the coat of the grain are often removed. Some nutrients are lost, most significantly fibre. Then, during the enrichment process, nutrients may be artificially added back in. But even after enrichment, the final product is likely to be less nutritious than the whole grains you started with,” says Dr. Lucia L. Kaiser, who is a community nutrition specialist in the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis.
Many studies have found that a diet high in healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as: cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and more.
This is so because healthy whole foods are loaded with fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They also contain phytochemicals – the general name for natural compounds in plants.
Usually, the term whole foods are confined to vegetables, fruits, and grains. But any dietician will agree that eating a skinless chicken breast is preferable to eating processed chicken nuggets. One of the biggest advantages of eating whole foods is that you’re getting the natural synergy of all of these nutrients together.
Avoid additives in foods
The nutrients lost during refinement are not the only disadvantage of eating processed foods. What is added can also be a problem. A lot of health conscious people are wary of the preservatives and chemicals that are added to processed and manufactured foods.
“I think the most worrisome additives are not the preservatives. It is the salt, sugar, and saturated and trans fats. While there has been a lot of attention paid to the risks of trans fats in recent years. I think salt is gravely underestimated, Kaiser said.
With all of the extra fat and sugar in processed foods, the calories can quickly add up, which leads to weight gain. But eating more healthy whole foods may actually help one maintain or lose weight. The natural fibre in many vegetables, fruits, and grains may fill one up without adding many calories.