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Stakeholders in the health and nutrition sector have called for dietary diversification in Nigeria, to reduce the rate of malnutrition and curtail protein deficiency in the nation.

The call was made during a recent Protein Challenge webinar themed: “Protein deficiency: Bridging the knowledge gap”.

Speaking at the session, Professor Henrietta Nkechi Ene-Obong, Nutritionist and Professor of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Calabar, stated that adequate knowledge and information must be disseminated to the public to inform them about the locally available protein-rich food sources and how to diversify the family diet.

She revealed that protein deficiency has lingered on due to the low dietary diversity, monotonous diets and poor feeding habits.

According to her, “Diet diversity refers to the variety of food nutrients packed in a plate at any given time. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, many individuals just eat rice, swallows, carbohydrates and other unhealthy foods every day, without utilizing healthy indigenous food sources around them.”

She added that Nigerians need to pay attention to ethnic differences in food habits and choices, as these food habits affect the nutrition of infants, children and adolescents.

Professor Ene Obong explained that “babies and children are the most impacted by malnutrition, along with people with more physiological requirements, like pregnant and lactating mothers, who need more proteins in their diets. When they are not fed nutritious foods, the consequences are far-reaching.”

She said available reports indicated that Nigeria has a high number of children affected by malnutrition and protein deficiency, citing the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018 (NDHS) as well as The Nigerian Protein Deficiency Report 2019.

She stated that to reduce the incidence of protein deficiency, people must naturally increase protein intake, noting that protein quality is important as proteins are the building blocks of the body. 

The professor noted that protein quality from food sources is dependent on the balance of essential amino acids contained in the food. 

She said: “animal source foods (A.S.F) are good sources of complete proteins, while plant source foods (P.S.F) have lower complete proteins. However, certain plant source foods like soybeans are exceptions, because they contain complete proteins, with an abundant amount of essential amino acids.”

Another panelist at the webinar, Dr. Ifeoma Augustina Akeredolu, a member of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria and Chief Lecturer, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, YabaTech, noted that the food-based dietary guidelines in Nigeria are all outdated and urgently need to be updated.

She advocated for the food dietary guidelines to be thoroughly reviewed and updated, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisations (F.A.O) standard. The guidelines would help Nigerians focus on nutrient density and diet diversity to tackle malnutrition in all its forms.

Dr. Akeredolu posited that as more and more people follow the standard food-based dietary guidelines, the country would make progress in curtailing protein deficiency.

Dr. Bimbo Oyedokun, a medical expert and Managing Partner, QuePlus Health Services, was also present as a panelist at the webinar. He highlighted the various signs and symptoms of protein deficiency, stating that protein-deficient individuals experience fatigue, hair loss, reddish skin and brittle dentition.

He noted: “immuno-compromised adults and other members of society need to increase their protein intake, to reduce the risk of being protein deficient. Also, the consumption of protein foods can fortify the immune system from diseases and infections.”

Dr. Oyedokun stated that nutrition education must be given top priority, to equip individuals with proper knowledge about nutrients and healthy lifestyles.

In his closing remarks, he appealed to Nigerians to use preventive measures to resolve malnutrition issues. He said: “prevention of protein deficiency, using the food-based approach, has been recognized as the most cost-effective strategy in dealing with this health disorder. Also, Nigerians need to embrace local food sources to completely eradicate malnutrition.”

The webinar was moderated by Mrs Anwuli Ogbonnaya, aka Chef Wulis, healthy food expert and CEO/Founder PartyPartyKitchen, acclaimed connoisseurs of the Nigerian taste buds and respected event and catering services provider.

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