Malnutrition has for decades eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian health and agriculture systems and the counsels of experts have been a switch to primarily plant-based diets as recommendation for public health and for protecting the planet.
However, there is evidence that many fruits, vegetables, and grains grown today contain less nutrients than those grown about seven decades ago.
Recent findings published by the National Geographic Society show that the nutrients of fruits and vegetables have been on the decline over the past 70 years. It was observed that many fruits, vegetables, and grains grown today carry less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C than those that were grown decades ago.
Now, fruits and vegetables, which are essential for people’s nutrition and health as they contain substances that regulate digestion and act as compounds that help regulate the intestines, could be putting people’s health at risk.
The study pointed out that people who have hitherto seen the need to avoid processed foods and prioritize fresh produce as a viable solution against the malnutrition scourge are at risk of this trend that shows that the aged population accessed healthier foods than is available today.
Findings of the study attribute this problem to contemporary agricultural processes “that increase crop yields but disturb soil health”. These processes were identified as “irrigation, fertilisation, and harvesting methods that also disrupt essential interactions between plants and soil fungi, which reduces absorption of nutrients from the soil”.
It noted that these problems are occurring on the back of climate change and rising levels of carbondioxide, which are also lowering the nutrient contents of fruits, vegetables, and grains.
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To investigate nutrient decline in fruits and vegetables, National Geographic Society adopted a scientific study published in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
The study noted changes in 13 nutrients in 43 different garden crops and they found that the fruits and vegetables showed declines in protein, calcium, and phosphorus, which are essential for building, maintaining strong bones, teeth and for proper nerve function.
Declines were also found in iron, vital for carrying oxygen throughout the body, and in riboflavin, which is crucial for metabolism of fats and drugs. Levels of vitamin C, important for the growth and repair of various tissues in the body and for immune function, also fell.
A recent report by UNICEF ascribes 45 percent of all deaths of under-five children to malnutrition, being either a direct cause or an underlying cause.
An estimated two million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), the report states.
Another study adopted by the magazine found that protein content in wheat decreased by 23 percent from 1955 to 2016, and there were notable reductions in manganese, iron, zinc, and magnesium, as well.
Oreoluwa Finnih, senior special assistant to the Lagos state governor on health on Wednesday said part of the government agenda is to protect health and supply requirements for quality healthcare.
According to her, “It’s a global approach that recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of the animals they consume and live with, and our shared environment. It is collaborative, multi-sectorial, transdisciplinary, and seeks to achieve optimal health outcomes, recognizing the interconnection between people, animal, plants, and their shared environment”.
The burden for nutrients is a shared burden, one that has a rippling effect, according to the researchers. When plants decline in nutrients, animals suffer the decline as they feed also on these plants.
Cows, pigs, goats, and lambs are now eating less nutritious grasses and grains, making meat and other animal-derived goods less nutritious than before.
While this study does not discourage fruit and vegetable intake, the same nutrient that could have been gotten from eating a single apple may now require about five to ten apples to get.
Micronutrient deficiencies impair cognitive and psychomotor skills, particularly in young children. These deficiencies can be alleviated through eating a balanced diet, rich in vegetables and fruits.
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