Adaku Efuribe

The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not consider industrial trans fats found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, frozen pizza, pies, cookies, margarines and spreads) as healthy diet.

Over the years the eating habits of many Nigerians have evolved. Modernisation has led to most people embracing processed foods over wholesome homemade meals.

I find it very easy to use my own experiences in life growing up in Nigeria to help buttress my points. It is understandable that some people may not agree with me. I have been labeled old fashioned often times when I try to uphold my cultural and traditional standards in terms of my eating habits.

For me I prefer wholesome homemade meals just like my Mum taught me. I started cooking at a very young age and I love home cooking.

Once in a while I do give myself a treat and eat out but whilst doing so, I try as much as possible to choose healthier menu options.

It will interest you to know I take home cooked food to work on a daily basis. It is hard work I must say but healthy eating is not something I wish to compromise.

With processed foods being advertised and sold in big grocery shops springing up everywhere in Nigeria, It seems a lot of people are embracing processed foods more these days.

I understand the ‘big groceries’ opening up provide employment for the local community but the government and public health professionals need to be on the lookout for unhealthy over processed foods being sold in such places as unhealthy eating pose a risk for obesity, diabetes and other disease conditions.

Although we cannot police the citizens of a country in terms of eating habits, we can at least put measures in place that will ensure adequate policies, education and awareness is created around healthy eating habits.

We can also ensure the foods sold in our shops are not prepared with harmful artificial enhancers or banned substances.

So what does healthy eating look like?
According to the WHO, healthy diet contains: Fruits, vegetables, legumes (e.g. beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, brown rice).

At least 400 g (five portions) of fruits and vegetables a day. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots are not classified as fruits or vegetables.

Healthy diets for infants and young children
In the first two years of a child’s life, optimal nutrition fosters healthy growth and improves cognitive development. It also reduces the risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing NCDs later in life.

Advice on a healthy diet for infants and children is similar to that for adults, but the following elements are also important; Infants should be breastfed exclusively during the first six months of life; Infants should be breastfed continuously until two years of age and beyond; From six months of age, breast milk should be complemented with a variety of adequate, safe and nutrient dense complementary foods. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods.

What government should do
Governments have a central role in creating a healthy food environment that enables people to adopt and maintain healthy dietary practices.

Government should create a coherence in national policies and investment plans, including trade, food and agricultural policies, to promote a healthy diet and protect public health; increase incentives for producers and retailers to grow, use and sell fresh fruits and vegetables; reduce incentives for the food industry to continue or increase production of processed foods with saturated fats and free sugars.

Other things government need to do is encourage reformulation of food products to reduce the contents of salt, fats (i.e. saturated fats and trans fats) and free sugars; implement WHO recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children; establish standards to foster healthy dietary practices through ensuring the availability of healthy, safe and affordable food in pre-schools, schools, other public institutions, and in the workplace; and explore regulatory and voluntary instruments, such as marketing and food labeling policies, economic incentives or disincentives (i.e. taxation, subsidies), to promote a healthy diet.

Everyone has a role to play and the Government has a greater role to play in terms of policies and advocacy.A stitch in time saves nine
.Efuribe is a Clinical Pharmacist/United Nations SDG Advocate