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How to prioritise healthy lifestyle

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‘You are what you eat’ is a very common saying that prioritises the importance of eating good food to stay healthy and fit. Due to the awareness created by nutritionists and health experts, people are changing the way they think about food, becoming more conscious about what goes into their bodies through their mouths. However, as much as this awareness is gathering momentum and people would love to eat healthily, it is an indubitable fact that in the face of economic hardship, many are succumbing to substituting quality for quantity.

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 superior to renowned brands. The infiltration, which has been going on for a long time, is not only limited to food, it extends to pharmaceutical products.

Regulatory agencies like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria 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 also embark on advocacy campaigns and market storms, which on some occasions led to the apprehension of some producers of these sub-standard or fake products. Sometime in 2021, a sad event happened in Kano where three persons died having consumed an adulterated flavoured drink. Tests conducted by NAFDAC on the adulterated drinks revealed the addition of dangerous chemicals as additives. Further findings by the agency also revealed 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, remember you may be compromising your health. It is pertinent to verify important details such as the date of production, expiry 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, with health experts raising the alarm over the impending health implications. Monosodium glutamate 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 sound, 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 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. More worrisome is that they are sold on the cheap, which could be a signifier 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 and housekeepers should not play games with the health of their family members. If we all can imbibe the saying, ‘You are what you eat’ whenever we visit the market, we will save many from serious health issues by shouting down the merchants of unbranded monosodium glutamate, the sellers of fake/substandard drugs, the sellers of adulterated flavoured drinks and bottled water, among other items that serve as refreshments.

Olamide Bakare, a public affairs commentator, writes from Lagos

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