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Nigerians switch diet over rising food cost

Choosing to maintain a healthy diet plan has increasingly become a tough task in Nigeria’s battle with rising food prices.

Some key diets are being knocked out of people’s list of preference, which is now more adapted to suit needs than wants. The trend, which tends to widen chances of stunting, underweight and deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, leaves children the most vulnerable to malnutrition.

Since the price of eggs moved above N50 each, for instance, Rolayo Luwoye, a single mother of three, stopped pairing the protein giver with yam in meals. Palm oil replaced eggs while rice and noodles went without company.

For her, managing to pay for yam is a separate miracle, without help from anywhere except her soft drink business run from the comfort of her room.

With food inflation racing to a record high of 21.97 percent in February, many with squeezed income run the risk of focusing excessively on foods that keep the stomach away from hunger, actively ignoring the need to diversify for a healthy and balanced diet.

Despite earning about thrice the minimum wage as an instructor in Ibadan, Abolaji Ekundayo was forced to settle for a cheaper type of fish when her favourite, mackerel, jumped up by 40 percent to N700.

Read Also: Hunger in the land as food prices go out of reach

“I wanted to buy mackerel fish popularly called Titus and found it was N700 each. I ended up with Shawa because I was quite broke that day. It was the first time I bought it, two for N500. I was surprised I could use it for stew,” Ekundayo states.

She often does not get the opportunity to replace the same value for a cheaper rate like she did for the protein source, as alternatives to expensive common food brands are equally playing catch up.

The part-time caterer is very worried about what she describes as paying higher for lower value both in quantity and quality, despite not lusting after wants.

“A carton of turkey wings used to be N15,000. But it is now N23,000. Half a kilogram is N1,300. I now cook turkey once or twice a month,” she explains further.

According to the World Health Organisation, income and food prices are top factors that affect the availability and affordability of healthy foods and interact to shape an individual’s dietary patterns.

Poverty amplifies the risk of malnutrition as the poor are more likely to be affected, raising healthcare costs, reducing productivity, and slowing economic growth, which can breed a cycle of poverty and ill-health.

Nigeria’s current situation means as much as 23.1 million unemployed people likely cannot eat right, especially women, infants, children, and adolescents.

This worsens an already poor situation in which Nigeria has the second-highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 percent of children under five, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), with only two out of every 10 children affected reached with treatment.

Children born to unemployed or underemployed parents could be deprived of nutrition necessary early in life for a healthy head start with long-term benefits.

But while income size and high food prices significantly influence healthy eating, Ada Nwaeze, consultant dietician, Providence Hospital, Ikoyi, Lagos, says knowledge of how to eat matters. It can help Nigerians choose diets wiser, whether with a large or small income.

“Healthy feeding goes both ways; you can either get it cheap or expensive. Regardless of however buoyant you are financially, it is only when you know the right things to purchase that it will help you,” Nwaeze notes.

“An average Nigerian can make a pot of soup with N2,000. There is no doubt inflation affects.”

A healthy mother should at the least aim at a diversified food basket, including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice, going by WHO’s recommendations.

But with the current trajectory, women of childbearing age suffering acute malnutrition could grow higher than 7 percent.

“High food prices thus affect people’s diet. Milk is expensive and you expect people to eat healthy milk. It is either they reduce the size and still take the milk or look for alternatives,” Oluyemisi Folasire, lecturer, department of human nutrition, University of Ibadan, says.

Also, Agatha David, deputy director, research, Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) and consultant paediatrician, states that increasing food prices is particularly dire for children as mothers forfeit foods rich in protein, vitamins and minerals for starchy foods that are more affordable.

This affects mental maturity and immunity development necessary to fend off diseases, she notes.

Urging the government to address the root causes of rising food prices, Agatha said: “Government must ensure insecurity comes to an end so that farmers can be confident to return to their farms. Then of course, we should improve agriculture so that we can have greater yield. We should invest in ways to preserve foods as well. Nigeria is high on the priority of where people are in danger of starving.”

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