Itoro Philips-Paulinus is a foodpreneur. In this interview by IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI, she bares her mind on issues relating to the rising wave of food adulteration and insecurity in Nigeria,among other topical issues.
A CCORDING to the World Bank, no fewer than 24 million Nigerians are currently undernourished. As a nutritionist, how does good nutrition enhance a person’s growth?
A healthy diet throughout life promotes healthy pregnancy outcomes, supports normal growth, development and ageing, helps to maintain a healthy body weight, and reduces the risk of chronic disease leading to overall health and well-being. Healthy food starts with a healthy diet in pregnancy, continues with breast milk for babies and is important for children and teenagers and adults and with ageing. People who regularly eat: more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars or salt/sodium and do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and foods with whole grains are more likely to develop chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The truth is most of us do know what healthy eating is all about: less fried food, less sugar and more vegetables and fruits. When it comes to having good nutrition, however, too many of us don’t know the full details of the benefits of good nutrition and how to go about achieving it. Nutrition is an essential aspect of a healthy lifestyle and the importance of getting it right cannot be over emphasised. According to Active Health, one of the benefits of having a nutritious diet is weight management.
A lot of us mistakenly associate weight loss with fad diets, but eating a nutritious diet is really the best way to go about maintaining a healthy weight and at the same time attaining the necessary nutrients for healthy body function. Swapping unhealthy junk food and snacks out for nutritious food is the first step to keeping your weight within a healthy range relative to your body composition, without the need to jump on the fad-diet bandwagon.
There are about 3421 food manufacturing establishments in Nigeria according to latest industry statistics, what is the unique solution your own outfit is bringing into the industry?
I am an enthusiast for healthy foods. Most food processing industries have skimmed out vital nutrients in foods and decided to give the society chaff (junks) from unhealthy environments and this has affected our overall health. Aiteefils Global Limited, produces natural food items in their wholesome form (no excessive refining to remove nutrients, no chemicals added in form of preservatives and colourings) in a healthy environment.
How do you intend to break into the industry and endear Nigerians to your products?
We have already broken in. Consistently giving them value for their money will keep endearing them (especially the health conscious Nigerians). We are not just for Nigerians though. We aim towards serving the global citizens. While we have tailored our vision towards this, we are also gradually putting in place mechanisms through which the global consumers can access our products seamlessly.
Food adulteration has been discovered to be endemic in Nigeria, what are some of the factors you believe are responsible for it?
Nigerians are not knowledgeable. They seem to pay less attention to their overall well-being. They prefer quantity to quality. So the food industry saw this and decided to satisfy them. But research has shown that this act is causing Nigerians more harm than good. The bare bone is that it is high time the Nigerian government intensified its effort in curbing the menace before it shatters the health of a larger percentage of its citizens. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health and unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
WHO says an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs) and that US$110 billion is lost each year in productivity and medical expenses resulting from unsafe food in low- and middle-income countries, like Nigeria. The worst is even that children under five years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125 000 deaths every year, while Diarrhoeal diseases remain the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230 000 deaths every year.
What do you advise the government and key stakeholders in the food processing industry to do, in a bid to stem the ugly tide of adulteration?
Law enforcement agencies for food should be active. They should ensure food industries do the right thing and stop collecting bribes when they go for inspection. The truth remains that food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick. More importantly, food-borne diseases impede socio-economic development by straining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade. Food supply chains now cross multiple national borders. Good collaboration between governments, producers and consumers will really help to ensure food safety.
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