Globally, there are billions of people suffering from one form of malnutrition or the other. In Africa, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that as at 2021, over 282 million individuals are malnourished.
One issue about this phenomenon is that people may be going about their business, carrying out their daily activities, without knowing that they are malnourished.
Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of food and nutrients. Malnutrition covers undernutrition, protein deficiency and obesity among other unsavory conditions.
Protein deficiency, a type of malnutrition, is a lack of protein nutrients in the body, and it poses a significant problem on the African continent. The deficiency can result from a protein-deficient diet or other events, such as diseases.
In Nigeria, surveys from the Nigerian Protein Deficiency Report 2020, state that over 45 percent of the population do not consume protein daily, indicating that millions of people are protein deficient.
This is largely because the staple foods consumed are carbohydrate based. Rice, bread, yam, swallows (eba, fufu, amala) maize, pasta are all carbohydrate food sources, and with the food insecurity challenges the nation is currently facing, incidences of protein deficiency are expected to rise.
It is no secret that protein is one of the most essential nutrients that the body needs but it somehow finds difficulty in making it into the Nigerian diet.
A major challenge Nigerians face is that protein animal food sources are relatively expensive, as meat, poultry and dairy products have skyrocketed due to the level of inflation in the country.
This is a critical problem, as proteins are an indispensable macronutrient in the hierarchy of foods. An absence of proteins in the diet, will invariably lead to protein deficiency.
Much of the health community agrees that a protein rich diet is key to mitigating protein deficiency. But for nations like Nigeria that are struggling with food insecurity and the rising cost of food stuffs, this may seem near impossible.
Fortunately, there are affordable protein food sources that if included in an individual’s diet, will certainly mitigate the challenge of protein deficiency in the nation. Foods like soybeans, eggs, groundnuts, beans are rich in protein, and offer other valuable nutrients.
Soybeans, a rich source of plant protein, has several health benefits. For example, the health benefits of soybeans for menopausal women includes a lowered risk of osteoporosis and protection from coronary heart disease. Soy beans contains antioxidants and other healthful nutrients like magnesium and zinc that are important for good health.
There are also vegetables that contain protein and healthy nutrients. These vegetables are nutrient dense, and are full of essential vitamins and minerals. They are pumpkin leaves (ugu), spinach, bitter leaves, and jute leaves (ewedu). These vegetables contain dietary protein, vitamins A, B1, B3, C, E, selenium, and iodine, which are essential minerals for growth and development.
Nothing beats a healthy and balanced diet. However, increasing the amount of protein in your diet will help tip the scales to a balanced state, in a situation where the staple foods are predominantly carbohydrate based. We need proteins for growth purposes and to repair the wear and tear of the body. Proteins help in building muscle and they are important for maintaining healthy cells.
A healthy body is built from healthy nutrients and our bodies need proper nutrition. The body needs a good diet to prevent malnutrition. When we eat well and maintain a healthy diet, we reap the many health benefits such as weight loss, reduced risk to cancer and diabetes, stronger heart health, stronger bones, as well as an improved memory.
A healthy, balanced diet is also very important for diabetes management, as it can help to control our blood sugar levels.
Reginald Onabu, Researcher and Public Relations Officer, Writes from Lagos