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Opinions of Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Columnist: Kwasi, Emmanuel

Nutrition: medicine of the future of the Ghanaian populace

The medicine of the future will no longer be curative; it will be preventive; not based on drugs but on the best selection and combination of food for good health.

Human nutrition is a scientific discipline explaining the organic process of nourishing or being nourished for the body to utilize the substances (nutrients) in the food for it structural and functional integrity. Food is not synonymous to nutrition as most people perceived even though the two are often interchanged. One been food secured does not make him/her nutrition secured if the basic sound principles of nutrition are not respected.

We live in a rapid changing world, environment, food supply, population and scientific knowledge where eating food which is sweet, attractive, stomach filling, expensive or cheap ( junk foods) or foods we crave for is the order of the day regardless of what nutritional value they can offer the body and it effect on the body. This has made me infer to the saying that “we are what we eat”. This has resulted in many forms of diet related diseases such as diabetes, all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, renal diseases, gout etc. in this our generation.

Good nutrition is extremely important to the mother and the father prior to sexual intercourse and from conception to old age stage of the human life cycle. Evidence of well nourish human is shown by a number of signs including a well-developed body, ideal weight for body composition and height, and good muscle development and tone. The skin is smooth and clear, the hair glossy and the eyes clear and bright. Posture is good and facial expression alert. Well-nourished people are more likely to be alert both mentally and physically and to have positive outlook on life. They are also more able to resist infectious diseases than undernourished people. Nevertheless, any nutritional insult or alteration during pre-embryonic, embryonic and foetal stage of the pregnancy leads to development deficit and poor mental alertness later on in life. The question is do you see some of the aforementioned signs in Ghanaians today?

Many malnourished people live in conditions of poverty and ignorance. Such nutritional deficit people are limited in physical work activity, immune system function and mental activity. More importantly, lack of vitamin B1 and B3 can lead to poor memory or low concentration.

The B-complex vitamins are essential to mental and emotional well- being. They cannot be stored in our bodies, so we depend entirely on our daily diet to supply them. B vitamins are destroyed by alcohol, refined sugars, nicotine, saturated fatty acid and caffeine the very substances that most alcoholics consume almost to the exclusion of everything else. Most Ghanaians especially the well-endowed consume foods containing most of refined sugar, caffeine and saturated fats. As a result they end up been rob off B vitamins. Most people also take in excess alcohol in order to eat more which result in excess weight gain and pot belly stomach. Because of ignorance, people see these people as a sign of good living instead of sickness.

In most of the hospitals in Ghana, the medical team excludes nutritionist/dietician. Most hospitals have no nutrition unit and most district health directorates have non-functioning nutrition departments. It is quite unfortunate and disheartening but that is the truth.

There is a great association between a country with good nutritional status to good economy and a country with bad nutritional status to dwindling economy and poverty. Compare developed countries (United Kingdom, United States of America, Germany etc.) their nutritional status and their economy to developing countries (Mali, Ghana, Tanzania etc.) their nutritional status and their economy and do the judgment yourself. This is why there is the need for a paradigm shift from curative to preventive with much attention to nutrition.

It is undeniable fact and very pathetic that, most people especially Ghanaians think good nutrition is all about eating fried rice and chicken, eating at a very expensive restaurant, eating canned, bottled, tin or processed foods and highly flavored foods and putting on excess weight. Notably, Excess weight is associated with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and all cancers because of the excess calories been stored as fat. This is what our political leaders and stakeholders and most Ghanaians patronized if we import almost all the food we consume.

Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine", said to his students in 2500 years ago that, "Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food". Moses Maimonides, the great 12th century physician, repeated the Hippocratic statement when he said, "No illness which can be treated by diet should be treated by any other means”. It is very unfortunate that graduate Nutritionist are left on the street of Ghana unemployed and those employed are at financial institutions and other places instead of being employed by ministry of health to help curb malnutrition (over and under nutrition) situations which is claiming many lives in Ghana. Optimum nutrition is the medicine of the future and not drugs, pharmacy, doctors or nurses.

It is sad to hear today the alarming rate of cardiovascular diseases, all cancers, numerous types of preventable disease in Ghanaian populace because Ghanaian leaders, heads of institutions and greater number of the entire populace have refused to accept a paradigm shift from curative medicine to preventive medicine which of course nutrition is the number one priority. Everybody wants to be a doctor, nurse, engineer because much priority and funds are allocated there. Ghana’s future is doomed if paradigm shift is not inculcated immediately. 

In conclusion, until Ghanaian political leaders, heads of institutions and organizations and the entire populace change their attitude and give almost all priorities to preventive medicine especially nutrition, cardiovascular disease, cancers and other diseases will never stop sending Ghanaians to their early graves. Measures should be put in place by Ministry of Health to employ more nutritionist and other public health trainees at hospitals, districts, municipal, metropolitan health directorates to preach the good news of nutrition and other health issues.

Written by:

Kwasi Emmanuel

Nutritionist (UDS)

Tel: 0247823111/0275646663