We are what we eat! We are a reflection of what we daily take in as food and water. To a large extent, a man’s health is determined by his nutrition
“Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food”
– Hippocrates (460 – 370BC), Greek Doctor
Chief Audu Ogbeh, Agriculture Minister, sometime ago in a piece published by a national daily titled, ‘Nigeria, global standard in food production and trade’, wrote “What you eat, if you eat well, will determine your state of health and your longevity as a human being. Unfortunately, most of the time nowadays, we are actually eating poison because of the way we handle our food production. From the seed we cultivate, to the fertilizer we use, to the chemical we spray, to the way we process the food, or even preserve the food, or package the food, we are determining whether we are eating well or eating badly.”
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No doubt, we are what we eat! We are a reflection of what we daily take in as food and water. To a large extent, a man’s health is determined by his nutrition – nourished, undernourished or malnourished. The reason is not far-fetched. The Greek physician, Hippocrates, who is regarded as the ‘Father of Medicine’, in 390 BC established the strong nexus between food and medicine, and came up with the quote above.
Inarguably, of the three basic needs of man – food, clothing and shelter, food is number one and the most important. Food is the primary reason most people work. Lack of it may not only cause health challenges but also it is capable of spelling doom for a whole nation. Communal clashes over land disputes in rural areas are not just tussles for pride and supremacy, but an ultimate battle for ownership of an unending source of food. In fact, lack or insufficiency of food in a country can lead to revolt and unrest. Food security is as important as life security.
The nourishment we derive from the type of food we take is a function of how these foods are produced, processed and packaged. As important as the food we take is to the body for good health and survival, so also can we be endangering our lives with this same food going by the processes involved in the preparation.
Wikipedia defines Nutrition as the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food in relation to maintenance, growth, reproduction, health and disease of an organism. It added that, the diet of an organism is what it eats, which is largely determined by the availability and palatability of foods. For a good diet to be palatable, it must be nutritious.
Our foods get contaminated and poisoned in many ways by our own farmers. These ways include the crude ways of openly drying cassava and fish (fresh and smoked) by the roadside, use of adulterated fertilizers (mixture of kaolin and sharp sand), unsanitary processing environment, use of rusty iron equipment , like locally fabricated pepper and tomatoes grinding machines among others. Most of our foods pass through these processes, to mention a few and end up in our bodies.
The culture of overcooking most of our foods has saved us a lot from grave dangers these contaminated foods portend, it is the reason some of those who consume these foods are not attacked by the disease.
Recently, the DG of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Moji Adeyeye warned Nigerians to avoid fruits ripened with Calcium Carbide. She said consumption of such Carbide-ripened fruits can cause organ failure, several diseases, including cancer and death. Some unscrupulous farmers and traders hasten the ripening process of fruits to meet high market demand for huge sales at the detriment of consumers. She said, “Calcium carbide generally contains impurities such as Arsenic, Lead particles, Phosphorus etc that pose a number of various health hazards.”
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Fruits that are usually ripened by Calcium Carbide include banana, cashew, mango, plantain, orange, grape and pawpaw. Generally for plantains, it is advisable to buy mature ones with all-green coloration and keep for some time in a covered black container to allow ripen naturally for the yellow coloration to emerge.
A food and safety expert with EU-funded United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), John Tehinse, suggested three ways to recognize fruits ripened with Calcium Carbide. First, colour of fruits ripened with carbide is not uniform, it has yellow and green patches unlike when it is ripened naturally. Secondly, texture of carbide-ripened fruits is hard while the naturally-ripened one has a soft texture. Thirdly, what follows natural ripening is conversion of starch to sugar, therefore it is sweet to taste but artificially ripened fruits are not sweet to taste.
Our friendly and nurturing foods and fruits may become not only frenemies but killer-foes if proper care and attention are not paid to how they are processed. It is expedient to say here that, we must cultivate and maintain personal hygiene when dealing with foods especially. Fruits should be thoroughly washed under running water before consuming. Fruits, which are important sources of many nutrients and vitamins responsible for building the body’s immune system, may end up damaging the whole body system if artificially ripened ones are consumed. Food should also be thoroughly cooked as well too.
Precautionary measures should be taken to ensure that our food and fruits, when consumed will not play the reverse role of ‘enemies’ by attacking the body rather they will play the defensive role of ‘friends’ to the body. If that food which is meant to take care of us turns to harm us, then it is no longer food, it is poison.
Ojewale writes from Idimu, Lagos via firstname.lastname@example.org