When back in 2003 Nestle Nigeria Plc, a vibrant arm of one of the world’s largest food companies hosted a seminar on the importance of Evidence-Based Nutrition (EBN), great nutritionists, including Mark Wahlqvist, Professor of Medicine and President, International Union of Nutritional Sciences (2003)as well as Nigeria’s eminent Professors of Nutrition such as Adewale Omololu, Tola Atinmo, A. Onisemo and E. O. Ojofeitimi all agreed to its relevance to consumers.
They all attested to the fact that there is indeed, evidence – based nutrition and it is important for consumers to understand what it really is and how to key into it. For instance, researches from different nutritionists over the years have shown that eating habits of different ethnic groups bear specific relation to locally available foods in our communities. And they do affect our physique and wellbeing.
For instance, back then researches revealed that amongst the races, the Asians live longest. They are the healthiest because their diets consist of a lot of fish and plant materials such as nuts, fruits and vegetables. They hardly eat red meat.
And even amongst the Asians it was discovered early in this Millennium that the people of Okinawa, who live off the coast of Japan, used to live longest. Their diets are rich in sea weeds, periwinkles and plenty of fish. While the plant sources of food provide a lot of vitamins, minerals and fibre, the fish they eat give their hearts electrical stability. Many Okina was used to live up to 100 years until the introduction of fried, fatty, cholesterol–rich fast foods into their diets that led to a sudden rise in the incident of heart-related diseases.
Still on evidence-based nutrition, have you ever wondered why here in Nigeria the Hausa/Fulani are tall and slim, the Igbos are stocky and average in height while the Yoruba have average attributes in height, build and complexion? Apart from heredity, it all boils down to their diet. Nutritional evidence shows that the Northern-based Hausas/Fulanis consume more milk and grains, the Igbos eat more variety of root-based solid foods and vegetables while the Yoruba also dwell more in starchy, solid foods as well as vegetable soups/stew.
The Philosophy of Evidence-Based Principles and Practice, according to https://www.sciencedirect.com › science › involve using the best available nutrition evidence, together with clinical experience, to help patients prevent (sometimes), resolve (sometimes), or cope with (often) problems related to their physical, mental, and social health, according to their values and preferences.
The question that follows is why is EBN practice important in nutrition? The answer is not far-fetched. When nutritionists and dieticians, with other healthcare team members approve the content of foods based on researches it enhances credibility and it will help dietitians to be more effective and efficient in their practice.
Essentially therefore, Evidence Based Nutrition is the difference between fact and opinion. Unfortunately, the internet is saturated with health influencers and even doctors and other dietitians who present their personal opinions as facts. Or, sometimes, their nutrition advice is based on very poor quality or limited research. Neither of these scenarios is the same as evidence based nutrition. That is according to Malaine, a nutritionist who is an expert on kidney-related diseases.
She has advised, and wisely so that we should think of evidence based nutrition as the reason behind nutrition recommendations. If someone makes a claim that “plant based diets are good for you” because they personally feel better on a plant based diet, this is NOT evidence based nutrition.
“The practice of evidence-based nutrition involves using the best available nutrition evidence, together with clinical experience, to conscientiously work with patients’ values and preferences to help them prevent, resolve, or cope with (often) problems related to their physical, mental, and social health.” She reiterates.
Back to Nestle Nigeria Plc, it is interesting to note that as part of its commitment to constantly improve the nutrient profile of Nestlé products, it has reduced the content of some ingredients in its food products.
For instance, between 2000 and 2010, the company reduced the overall sugar content of its products by 34%. This figure is based on the total volume of sugar that it purchased and our overall sales volume over this 10 year period.
Also in 2007 it introduced a mandatory policy to make ongoing reductions in the level of sugar, especially in products that make a significant contribution to consumers’ total dietary sugar intake. This includes complete meals, snacks and drinks, as well as products intended primarily for children, such as breakfast cereals.
Instead, it makes limited use of sweeteners to reduce sugar and to provide a sweet taste, for example in beverages, without compromising product quality, regulatory compliance or consumer preferences. Healthy initiative, you would agree.
On salt, it stated that epidemiological studies have linked excessive sodium (or salt) consumption with high blood pressure. There is also scientific evidence at the population level that lowering blood pressure by reducing sodium (or salt) intake can reduce the risk of premature death due to cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as kidney disease.
So, in 2005, as part of its commitment to constantly improving foods for health reasons, Nestlé introduced a policy to significantly reduce the salt content of its products. By the end of 2007 it had reduced the level of salt in higher-salt products by 10%.
By the end of 2010, it had made further reductions to bring the salt level down to 75% of the amount in the original recipes. In total, it has reduced the use of salt across its product portfolio by more than 12,000 metric tonnes in the last 10 years.
When it comes to Trans-Fatty Acids (TFA) it has made sure that the acceptable level of TFA in its products should not exceed 3% of the total fat in foods, or 1% of the daily total energy intake (as recommended by the World Health Organization). The company is particularly determined to reduce the levels of TFA in products consumed by children and in products that contain high levels of TFA, such as soups, snacks, pizzas, and ready-made meals.
As for Saturated fat its policy is to reduce levels of saturated fatty acids wherever possible and not to increase the amount above existing levels elsewhere. It therefore, supports scientific advances in the area of dietary saturated fatty acid levels and their effects on health.
When it comes to organic food Nestlé offers the choice of organic products alongside its normal range in some countries, provided this makes commercial sense and is technically feasible.
The essence of all the above-stated is for Nigerians, and indeed consumers all over the world to choose their food items based on scientific research on their nutritional values. We should focus more on the nature-based diet as passed on by our ancestors, instead of buying many foreign, processed food items with harmful colourants, preservatives and sweeteners that cause us more harm than good.
Kudos go to Nestle Nigeria Plc for ensuring that their food products are processed according to the nutritional requirements of the consumers. Other food companies should borrow a fresh leaf from this laudable initiative.