FUNMILAYO AREMU reports on the dangers of unhealthy dietary lifestyle some Nigerians engage in. She speaks with experts on recommendations for a healthy dietary lifestyle.
It is another Christmas season and expectedly there will be the rush to celebrate the grand festival that Christians use to restore and renew their faith in Jesus Christ. But for many, Christmas is an occasion during which they indulge in an eating spree regardless of how healthy or harmful the food is.
The current situation of the country, however, is not pocket-friendly. Many Nigerians struggle to keep body and soul together amidst the incessant increase in food prices and growing poverty and could no longer afford to eat food rich in nutrients. This has forced many people to eat anyhow and/or just anything to fill their stomachs.
The body needs nutrients to function properly, but many Nigerians now eat without taking into consideration the nutrients their bodies require. Some have mistaken having a full stomach for eating healthily while many simply don’t understand the necessity for healthy eating by consuming food in excess because it (the food) is available and free, especially during festive periods.
Sunday Tribune investigated the eating habits of Nigerians and if they are mindful of having a balanced diet awnd/or eating healthily.
Folajinmi Olayinka, a banker, disclosed that she consumes more of junks due to the nature of her job. Her job, she explained, does not give her the time to prepare the kinds of food she would have loved to eat.
“I try sometimes to fix something to eat by myself, and that is noodles or pasta mostly. I take a lot of junk food, noodles, and I frequent fast food joints a lot because I don’t have time to go to the market and buy foodstuffs to cook.
“I would rather visit fast food restaurants, and get something quick to eat. I know it’s not totally healthy. But due to the nature of my job as a banker, I have to resume early, and most weekends I am hardly at home. So fast food has been my saving grace,” she said.
For Kayode Sobayo, a teacher, late night food has been his habit for decades. He has got used to eating late at night and this is as a result of the fact that he sleeps late.
According to him, “my wife makes sure we have dinner as early as 7pm. But due to the fact I indulge in late night movies, I get hungry and I visit the kitchen to raid the fridge. At times, I eat swallow [eba or amala] as late as 2am. I really do not care as long as my stomach is filled. There are I drugs I can always use when I have diarrhoea,” he narrated.
For Adefunke Aderinto, a makeup and skincare artist, the current economic situation is suicidal. According to her, many people can no longer afford three square meals, no talk of affording a balanced diet. Despite the unsavoury situation, she admitted that it is important to eat a balanced diet, and that people should, at least, buy foods that will add nutrients to their bodies.
In her words: “Well, our health and wellbeing is more important you know. Despite the fact that foodstuffs are expensive, I still need to eat well. Because medications and hospital bills are more expensive, I don’t want to play with my health or that of my kids.
“So to maintain balanced diet, I am mindful of what I eat and I am making sure I eat a balanced diet. I buy my food items in bits, within my budget. I don’t mind the fact that beans is too expensive; I still add it to my meals. I also eat a lot of fruits and drink lots of water. One thing I do is that I team up with friends to buy food items in bulk. So, we buy them and share accordingly.”
Unhealthy eating lifestyle
Sunday Tribune spoke with experts to find out about harmful eating habits that Nigerians engage in. Dr Ann Ozoh, Chief Dietician, University College Hospital, Ibadan, explained that the eating habits of Nigerians lately are quite harmful to their health, averring many Nigerians have deviated from indigenous foods and have copied the western diet.
According to her, “the harmful eating habits that Nigerians engage in are quite numerous and diverse, because, we have diverse cultures and the eating habit of people depends on their culture. I have noticed that we are deviating from our cultural heritage in terms of dietary habits.
“And we have copied the western lifestyle, even in terms of diet. We are moving away from the nature to nurture. We believe that those that eat vegetables and fruits are too local. So, we move into this western dietary life style; we go for junk foods. That is the lifestyle we are now living.
“We believe so much in pizza, spring rolls, Samosa, Shawarma. If you don’t know how to eat it, and you open your mouth in the society to say, ‘I have never tasted it’ you look horrible. So, it shouldn’t be. This way of life should change. So, we should go back to our grassroots and go back to the indigenous meals that are mostly nutritious.
“These junks contain a lot of harmful chemicals. The preservatives, the colouring they add to these things, in a way, degenerate the body composition. These things deplete the natural composition of the body and it is difficult for the liver to eliminate. “We are copying the western dietary lifestyle, where they have diverse forms of diseases. So, we should not copy them, rather, we should go back to the farm and take fresh food.”
Ozoh noted that the inherited local foods nurtured our forebears to living to ripe old age, wondering why people are now abandoning such foods.
“We can recall from the past that our great grandparents lived over hundred years and it is because of the foods they were eating then. There was no westernized dietary lifestyle. But now, the lifespan has dropped to 40 years and as more research is being done, it is reducing,” she explained.
Dr Ugwu Cosmas, a nutritionist and Head, Department of Nutrition and Dietetic, Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, Abuja, corroborated Ozoh’s submission on the unhealthy eating habits that many Nigerians now indulge in.
According to him, the human body needs certain nutrients to get nourished. Once those are denied it, the body then begins to develop health complications. Our body systems, he said, “are generally made of nutrients, starting from the day of conception to birth. What you eat is what you are and that’s what your health will be.
“Many youths and mothers don’t cook again; they survive on soft drinks, artificial juices, noodles and junk foods or empty calories sweetened foods and already made foods with preservatives. In another dimension, all are dangerous foods. Some food vendors process food with dangerous chemicals which are poisonous to the body.
“For example, some cook meat with paracetamol tablets, ferment cassava and other foods quickly with detergents, use colours in fish preparations and induce fruits like banana, mango, oranges etc with carbide to ripen. All these affect vulnerable groups leading to metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, cancers, over weight related diseases and obesity.”
Speaking further, Dr Cosmas reiterated the need for healthy food combinations, as many people combine food in an unhealthy manner not minding the effect on their health.
“Healthy food should contain all the six classes of food in the right amount in relation to the person’s health status. This is where dieticians come in to play their role.
“Let us start from babies and infants. Breast milk is the best food for babies from zero to six months, but many mothers combine their breast milk with infant formula milk in their baby’s diet, leading to obese children or double burden malnutrition in children.
“In Nigerian, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other nutrition related diseases are now common. Evidence-based information showed that many Nigerians cannot eat without one soft drink alongside the food, which is wrong because the foods are more of carbohydrates and each bottle of soft drink contains between 8-10 cubes of sugar equivalent. This is one major cause of metabolic diseases in the country today.
“Look at these combinations: garri and beans; beans and bread; garri and soft drink; bread and pap; akara and pap; pap and beans; rice and yam; rice and beans. No vegetable, no fish or meat. Beans have only 10 per cent protein and is of low biological value protein, because it is plant origin despite that it is of small percentage. Tea and bread in the western world is taken because of the cold weather not as healthy food purposes. But here, people abuse it with other caffeinated beverages leading to proliferation of high blood pressure and heart related diseases,” Cosmas explained.
Healthy Diet despite Economic Recession
From the submission of these health professionals, it would seem as though almost all Nigerians are guilty of unhealthy eating habits, especially as more Nigerians are pushed into the poverty ring and unable to meet the rising food prices due to their meagre income.
But Dr Ozoh noted that the healthy food is actually less expensive than the unhealthy ones and it is even easier and more convenient to consume healthy meals with the hike in food prices.
“There are foods one can enjoy without breaking the bank. The ones that are expensive in Nigeria are the ones that are not healthy. Pizza, to get a plate, you need to have more than 2,000 naira for just a small portion. And with that N2,000, one can prepare a healthy meal. You can still get 1,000 naira worth of meat at the market; you can still get your okro or ogbono. You can still plan a healthy meal that you can take for two days or more depending on the family size.
“Let’s put that into consideration: we have ewedu of N100, N50 at times, depending on the location; orange is not so expensive; egusi, [melon seed] a cup for N100; Ogbono for N200 half a cup. We can’t finish it depending on the family size at a meal. Garri is available; the normal yam flour, amala is available, pounded yam. There is yam and beans for moinmoin, akara, ekuru. All these are indigenous foods. There is tuwo, vegetable soup, okra soup, egusi soup, ogbono, edika ikong soup, depending on your pocket. You can cook these meals within your budget. It is very cheap to indulge in the indigenous meals compared to the westernized diet.”
Like Ozoh, Dr Ugwu Cosmas believes that despite the harsh economic reality, Nigerians can still maintain a healthy food habit by following some healthy rules in food preparations.
“Most people overcook their vegetable which is not supposed to be so. Some people steam their vegetables at first before the final cooking which is also wrong, because all the water soluble vitamins and mineral will leach out into the water and thrown away, and the vegetable is left with nothing.
“The same with cutting vegetables in the market and coming home to wash it, it is not safe. The correct way is to wash before cutting. Cooking vegetable should be done within 3-5minutes in order to retain the nutrients. Avoid too much frying; re-boiling will reduce the nutrients quality and destroy some. The best way is to cook and consume immediately if not for the economic quagmire in the country,” explained Dr Ugwu.
Doctor Ozoh, in her submission, said the need to have a balanced diet is important.
“There are no too harmful foods and there are no too good foods, but one just needs to balance it up. For example, the palm oil has a lot of properties, the good ones and the bad ones. That is why, when we see bottles of palm oil, we see some that have solidified at room temperature, while some don’t solidify at room temperature. So, the ones that are liquid at room temperature are the healthy while the ones that solidify at room temperature is the unhealthy part of palm oil.
“So, whenever we are using palm oil, let us use it in moderation. Whatever soup, whatever food you cook, cook in moderation. Anyone above the age of 40 must cut down sugar intake, fat intake, and salt intake. By following this way of life, we are helping ourselves to live long and live a healthy life. By doing this, we are giving our future a guarantee of a better tomorrow than reducing it by two per cent yearly due to our dietary habits.
“What the society actually needs to stay away from are alcohol and cigarette because of cancer. Every other thing should be taken in moderation. As individuals just have a health care professional close to you for better advice,” she admonished.
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