By Byron Mutingwende
Zimbabwe is in the process of developing Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs) to promote consumption of healthy and nutritious diet.
Monica Muti, the Nutrition Intervention Manager in the Ministry of Health and Child Care said the process is being led by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation Development with financial support from the European Union (EU) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The technical team has members from various government ministries and departments, UNICEF, Save the Children, WFP and academia.
“Food Based Dietary Guidelines are a set of easily-understood practical messages of recommended food combinations that can be consumed for optimal health. FBDGs are generated for use by the general public. They are country-specific and take into account each country’s food availability, diet patterns and nutrition-related health issues. They should form the basis for public food and nutrition, health and agricultural policies and nutrition education programmes to foster healthy eating habits and lifestyles. FBDGs provide evidence-based recommendations about the components of a healthy and nutritionally adequate diet. They focus on disease prevention rather than disease treatment,” Muti said.
She said nutrition plays a primary role in the prevention of diseases. The intake of food ensures growth in children and youth, maintains good health throughout life, meets special needs of pregnancy and lactation and for recovery from illness.
“The level of interaction depends on the infection and the extent of under-nutrition but in general, poor nutrition can result in reduced immunity to infection. This can increase the likelihood of an individual getting an infection or increase its duration and/or severity. Infection can result in loss of appetite, increased nutrient requirements and/or decreased absorption of nutrients consumed”
Nutrition interventions have been shown to provide targeted effective intervention in secondary and tertiary prevention of disease. Multiple disease states and their detrimental effects on morbidity and mortality can be prevented or minimized with effective and timely dietary and lifestyle intervention; and policy initiatives designed to address the underlying causes of environments that foster poor dietary and physical activity patterns.
Molifia Manyasha from Dietetic Association of Zimbabwe said diet is associated with risk factors that cause cancer.
“Food preparation and processing methods can lead to cancer. Charring or cooking meat at high temperatures forms substances associated with gene mutation and cancer formation.For example, grilled beef produces more compounds than grilled chicken; grilled chicken produces more than oven-grilled chicken. In food preservation, nitrates are used extensively as preservatives in processed meats. Nitrates are readily reduced to nitrites that react with dietary amines to form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are known carcinogens. These carcinogens are said to be produced in the stomach and colon of people who consume large amounts of red meat,” Manyasha said
She added that the exposure of people to pollutants through air, water, food and beverages increases their risk to cancer.
“Common environmental exposures include carbon monoxide, heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides. Also Bisphenol A (BPA) used in the manufacture of hard plastic bottles or linings of metal-based food and beverage cans and naturally occurring carcinogens which are produced by plants for natural protection may cause cancer.”
In 2012, globally, the cancer burden rose to 14.1 million cases. So far, over 8.2 million people have died of cancer since 2008. The most commonly diagnosed cancers are lung (13%) and breast (11.9%). It was noted that 56.8% of all cancers and 64.9% of cancer deaths occurred in less developed regions of the world.
The most commonly diagnosed cancers among Zimbabweans in 2013 were cervical (18)%; kaposi sarcoma (10%); breast cancer (7%); and prostate (7%). The National Cancer Prevention and Control Strategy for Zimbabwe revealed that approximately 30% of cancers are probably linked to diet and nutrition.
Hana Bekele from the World Health Organisation called on the need for policy actions on sustainable food systems promoting healthy diets, international trade and investment, nutrition education and information, social protection, health systems delivery of direct nutrition interventions and health services to improve nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene and food safety.