The recent Nigerian Protein Deficiency Survey Report revealed that 50% of Nigerians consume an insufficient amount of proteins in their diet.
Why is Protein so Important?
Almost everything that makes up our body is from protein. It is a key building block. From blood to bones and muscles down to elements as small as enzymes and hormones, protein is an essential component. In this regard, protein is one of the major contributors to the growth changes your 5-year old body experiences to become the 15-year old body. That is why they say protein helps to build lean muscle mass. Also, protein is crucial for body repair and the proper functioning of our immune system. All of this explains why protein deficiency increases the chances of infections and stunted growth in children.
Protein Reduces the Feeling of Hunger
Studies have shown that protein in diet increase satiety to a greater extent when compared to its carbohydrates and fat counterparts. Why is this so? High protein meals stimulate the release of Peptide YY which is an anti-hunger hormone. This is the reason you don’t get hungry for long periods after a plate of beans.
Protein Aids Weight Loss
Most times, unnecessary weight is gained because unused calories are stored as fat. The good thing with proteins is, they yield fewer calories than fats while also needing some ATP to be converted into glucose. Furthermore, a diet cannot be referred to as balanced if it lacks sufficient protein.
Factors Associated with Poor Protein Consumption
There are two major reasons why the protein ratio in our diets is far below the daily requirements.
- Affordability: The Protein Deficiency Report, mentioned earlier, showed that 51% of the survey participants didn’t consume adequate protein due to the high cost. It’s no news that buying rice or other staple carbs is cheaper than chicken or fish.
- Accessibility: Demand drives supply and so as a direct consequence of the previous reason rich protein food types are not readily available in certain areas.
Think about it, if you are not the watch-what-I-eat kind of person, flour products e.g., biscuits, puff-puff, chin-chin and so on are probably your go-to for snacks. Moreover, about 7 out of 10 Nigerians would opt for carbohydrate-based meals accompanied with just a small piece of animal protein when they decide to patronize a decent, regular eatery. Why? That is what is available because that is what is in demand.
How to Improve Your Protein Intake
Having understood the significance of this macro-nutrient and the major challenges that we face, how then can we efficiently address this issue?
The United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) with other partners recently launched ‘Protein Challenge Nigeria’, a protein awareness campaign that aims to shed light on the prevalence of Protein Deficiency in Nigeria. Getting this information around is only the first step to improving the current situation other important steps include;
- Know Your Local Food Protein Sources
Do you know that Protein is not strictly animal-based like fish, turkey etc.? If you do, how about the fact that beans and milk are not the only plant-based proteins? There are a number of foods that contain a fair amount of protein and don’t cost so much. Some examples are crayfish, ewedu, egusi, okra, nuts (tiger nuts, walnuts, groundnuts etc), and nunu yoghurt-commonly taken as ‘fura da nono’. This should not stop you from consuming animal-based protein but at least with varieties, you can mix it up.
- Snack on Proteins
There’s nothing odd about snacking on groundnuts with a fruit or a hard-boiled egg from time to time.
- Plan for the Protein in your Meals
Consciously decide to add a good amount of protein to your meals whenever you cook. An additional quick tip that goes with this is, try to eat your protein during the meal (preferably early). Many of us tend to leave it till the end especially if it’s animal-based. Remember that protein fills you up faster and for a longer period. So start with the protein.
Above all, new habits don’t come easy. You have to go through the process. Always have it at the back of your mind that ‘it’s all for your good’.
A phenomenal lady whose skills and style do the talking. Her unending desire for better healthcare from persons, through to the public has always been her drive. Over the years, she has volunteered with different NGOs that try to promote a healthy lifestyle.
She hopes to one day create an avenue for people to get the guidance needed for nutrition essential for life, amongst other things. She believes knowledge paves ways. And so, makes it a responsibility to keep learning and impacting others.
Deborah Solomon is a believer and currently a medical student at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. She enjoys writing, traveling, music, and cooking.