Food-based method cheapest way to stop malnutrition, say experts

By Adekunle Yusuf

Of all measures designed to stop all forms of malnutrition, the food-based approach is the most cost-effective approach. That was the view of professionals in the nutrition and healthcare industry at the Protein Challenge Webinar Series 5, themed: ‘Bridging the Knowledge Gap.’ This, experts said, begins with adequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life and adequate maternal and adolescent nutrition.

Prof. Henrietta Nkechi Ene-Obong of the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Calabar, Cross River State, said mothers need to be encouraged to engage in exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and to continue breastfeeding for two years. Adequate complementary feeding should also be promoted, the professor of human nutrition said. “Plant protein alone is not adequate to support maximum growth and development in infants and children. Plant proteins should be supplemented with animal source foods like fish, poultry and eggs.”

Prof. Ene-Obong also added that capacity must be developed to bridge the knowledge gap, and put such knowledge into action. She explained that proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body tissues; hence they are found throughout the body. Pregnant and lactating women need extra proteins to help in the development of the foetus and milk production, she noted. She added that healthy adults need to consume an average of 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight, for individuals with minimal to intense physical activity. In family meals, it is important that carbohydrates with proteins are mixed, she said. “For example, rice and beans, yam and eggs. We must ensure that infants and young children consume foods from at least four food groups, including grains, roots and tubers; legumes and nuts; dairy products; flesh foods and eggs; vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables (like carrots and sweet potatoes) and other fruits and vegetables.”

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Also lending her voice, Dr. Ifeoma Akeredolu, Chief Lecturer, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Yaba College of Technology, said that protein deficiency still lingers in Nigeria because of ignorance and poverty. She explained that many people are unaware of the dietary guidelines, adding that the food-based dietary guidelines in Nigeria are all outdated. 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.


Dr. Bimbo Oyedokun, a medical expert and a healthcare management consultant, said that protein deficiency can be medically detected and treated. Symptoms of protein deficiency include poor mental functions, limp hair, pale skin and dental problems. He argued that e-health services and medical technology can be used to mitigate protein deficiency in Nigeria.