While food, water, and drugs are essential to building the human immune system and making the consumer stay healthy and strong, not all that we consume actually deliver these functions. In this article, Joshua Bassey shows the importance of paying close attention to what goes into the human system through the mouth.
Abbas Abdullahi (not real name), a student at one of the federal universities in Northern Nigeria, was full of life until October 2022.
It was a Friday evening and Abdullahi had returned from school famished. To suppress his hunger, the undergraduate had reached out for a sauce roll. Unknown to him, it was one of the adulterated brands marketed by cash-hungry merchants whose main focus was to milk unsuspecting members of the public.
The rest of the evening was the worst in the life of Abdullahi, who spent the next three days in the hospital, where doctors battled to save his life. He survived, but not without a sad tale that would define the rest of his life.
In a world that is becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet, not a few Nigerians are carrying on as if it doesn’t matter anymore what goes through their mouths into their system.
In many instances, people, including the educated, don’t pay attention to what they eat, drink, or inhale. This dangerous lifestyle has led some people to be admitted to hospitals, where they have had to spend fortunes to regain their health.
But as the saying goes, ‘You are what you eat’. This means placing importance on what you eat and drink in order to stay healthy and fit.
With the awareness created by nutritionists and health experts, some are changing the way they think about food and becoming more conscious of what goes into their bodies.
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But in spite of this growing awareness about the need to eat what truly nourishes the body, some are still succumbing to substituting quantity for quality.
An ordinary day in the market would leave a buyer’s mouth agape at the frightening volume of substandard products across the food chain coming under various brand names and claiming to be as superior as renowned brands. The infiltration, which has been going on for a long time, is not only limited to food; it extends into pharmaceutical products. One of the most memorable advertising campaigns against fake products in the pharmaceutical industry was the Panadol advertisement, which ended with ‘if e no be Panadol, e no fit be like Panadol’. It raised the consciousness of Nigerians against buying fake brands of Panadol, resulting in a boost in its sales while simultaneously dispelling claims of the drug’s efficacy.
Regulatory agencies like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) have been leading from the front in curbing the menace of substandard and fake products in the market.
They have been doing this in their regulatory roles, with a focus on quality, distribution, sales, and use of products. They have embarked on advocacy campaigns and market storms, which, on some occasions, led to the apprehension of some producers of these substandard or fake products.
Sometime in 2021, a sad event happened in Kano where three people died having consumed an adulterated flavoured drink. Tests conducted by NAFDAC on the adulterated drinks revealed the addition of dangerous chemicals as additives to the flavoured drinks.
Further findings by the agency also revealed that only two of the five flavoured drinks identified in the unfortunate incident were registered in NAFDAC’s database; the other three were not.
In light of these happenings, the average Nigerian needs to pick up where NAFDAC left off by ensuring that the products they are buying have NAFDAC approval. As much as many may desire to buy cheap and in large quantities, they need to remember that they could be compromising their health.
It is pertinent to verify important details such as the date of production, expiration date, brand name, and NAFDAC approval, among other vital information.
In recent times, Kaduna and some parts of the North have been heavily infiltrated with unbranded and substandard monosodium glutamate (MSG), and health experts have begun to raise alarm over the impending health implications.
“Monosodium Glutamate” (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a flavour enhancer that has been used effectively for over a century to bring out the best flavours in food. The food culture of the North, being an age-old tradition of spicy and seasoned delicacies that fill the environment with an inviting aroma, is a match made in palatability for the adoption of monosodium glutamate in their cooking.
Little wonder it remains the biggest market for this brand of seasoning. As delicious as this combination may be, there is danger in the abuse of the market with unbranded monosodium glutamate by merchants who are hell-bent on forcing unhealthy foods into the bodies of people.
These unbranded monosodium glutamates are sold in the open from uncovered sacks and in measurements to unsuspecting buyers who have chosen quantity over quality. Unlike leading brands like Ajinomoto, Vedan, etc., which are packed in sachets, NAFDAC-approved, and sold in healthy sizes, these unbranded types are the opposite. The alarming part is that their manufacturers cannot be traced to check for their authenticity.
Indeed, more worrisome is that they are sold cheaply, which could be a sign of their being substandard and unhealthy for human consumption.
As stated earlier, the responsibility does not belong to NAFDAC, SON, and other regulatory bodies alone; every Nigerian must look out for themselves and their fellow citizens to avert this looming health hazard. Food vendors should be conscious of the health of their customers by using standard-branded products in their cooking. The same goes for households; wives, husbands, and housekeepers should not play games with the health of their family members.
If we all could imbibe the saying “You are what you eat” whenever we visit the market, we would save many from serious health issues by shouting down the merchants of unbranded monosodium glutamate, the sellers of fake or substandard drugs, the sellers of adulterated flavoured drinks, and bottle water, among other items that serve as refreshments.