(By Rémy Ejel, Market Head for Nestlé CWAR Ltd.)
Iron, a key nutrient to develop children’s brains and help adults live productive lives, is acutely lacking in people’s diets
There is an African proverb that says: “Your food is supposed to be your medicine and your medicine is supposed to be your food.”
Yet millions of people on the continent are not living their lives to the fullest because the food they’re eating is not providing them with enough nutrients to feed their brain and body.
Live strong with iron
Iron, a key nutrient to develop children’s brains and help adults live productive lives, is acutely lacking in people’s diets.
Iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional burden across the globe. Young children, adolescent girls and pregnant women are the ones who suffer the most. It disables their bodies, reduces their capacity to learn and work to earn a good living, and in its most severe forms – anaemia – contributes to women dying during childbirth delivery.
But why should we care? Because iron deficiency inhibits the sustainable, economic growth of Africa.
Do you know if iron deficiency is affecting you or your family?
Tiredness, fatigue, paleness and being short of breath are all symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia.
But the reality is, most people in Central and West Africa do not associate these symptoms with the lack of iron and are therefore not aware of the dire consequences it can have on their lives and their families.
In Ghana, more than one out of five children below under the age of five years old are iron deficient. In Côte d’Ivoire (http://bit.ly/2OPrGc4), iron deficiency anaemia affects 80% of preschool children as well as 50% of schoolchildren and women.
With iron deficiency being the cause of half of the anaemia cases, over 75%+ of youngsters under the age of five are anaemic in Sierra Leone, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Gambia, as reported by the World Bank in 2016.
Iron deficiency is not only preventable; its solutions are inexpensive and effective
Iron deficiency need not be an on-going ailment. We can stop this hidden hunger weakening the lives of millions. Solutions are within our reach and it’s up to us to address and prevent it.
More people need to know about iron deficiency
People in Central and West Africa need to know about the symptoms and the severe, long-term consequences of iron deficiency. Food companies and civil society need to rally behind health authorities to promote locally available foods that are rich in iron and balanced food habits to maximise iron absorption in the body.
Eat more locally grown iron-rich foods
Topping up iron intake is simple and accessible. From dark leafy greens to legumes, and giblets, fish to red meat (http://bit.ly/33D5E0l), including these in your daily mealtimes can help boost your iron intake. Eating these with foods that are rich in vitamin C (http://bit.ly/2Mg8aDR), such as lemons, oranges, papayas, tomatoes and some green vegetables increases the absorption of iron in your body.
Fortify your diet
Meeting iron requirements may be challenging, especially for young children and women.
Eating fortified foods are a good way to boost iron intake and other vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in people’s diets in an affordable way.
In Central and West Africa, food fortification is one cornerstone of how Nestlé enhances quality of life and contributes to a healthier future by providing affordable and accessible nutrition.
Back in 2009, we started mapping out the different micronutrient deficiencies in the region and identified the most relevant foods and beverages to fortify to fill in people’s diet gaps.
Maggi (http://bit.ly/2VHbjzG) bouillon was one of the most obvious solutions as they are widely consumed across the region and across all income levels. This is why we launched iron-fortified Maggi bouillon cubes (http://bit.ly/2pnc84v), with each serving providing 15% of the recommended daily allowance of iron, in addition to 30% of the recommended daily allowance of iodine. Cerelac infant cereals is another food solution that provides loads of nutrition for small tummies, which is fortified with iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A and B, along with Nido milk and Milo beverages.
Other ways to enrich people’s diets is to use naturally biofortified crops, such as the vitamin A-rich orange maize, which is grown in Nigeria with the support of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Harvest Plus. These are win-win crops: farmers can consume it in their households and food companies can include it in their products. By 2020, Nestlé will integrate at least 1,000 tonnes of biofortified maize (http://bit.ly/2INMVan) in its Golden Morn cereals in Nigeria.
In 2018, we provided 73 billion fortified food servings to families in the region and made sure that 100% of our children’s food portfolio is fortified.
Food fortification is cheap – it only costs between 2-5% of the cost of the raw material, helps leverage people’s current food habits and is effective in reducing deficiencies (http://bit.ly/2MfgJi6).
Other useful solutions
Timing your usual coffee or tea 30 minutes or more after a meal may help as these beverages contain ingredients that limits iron absorption.
If you are concerned about your iron intake, consult your doctor about taking an iron supplement, particularly if you are pregnant.
Why act now?
Iron deficiency undercuts the future success of millions African children and women. Yet, it is preventable through solutions that are affordable and accessible to all.
So it is up to all of us to tackle iron deficiency and anaemia using a collaborative approach.
This can be as simple as raising awareness about the benefits of a balanced and iron-rich diet to people through engaging campaigns and relevant messaging. For example, we aim to make progress in this area by launching an iron deficiency awareness campaign on World Food Day, together with experts, regional personalities and the First Lady and Africa Nutrition Leadership Champion for Ghana, Rebecca Akufo-Addo.
By working together, we can also all help to improve people’s health and nutrition. From government to civil society, to farmers and companies, it should be our priority to make healthy and sustainable diets affordable and accessible to everyone. Doing so will contribute to Africa achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (http://bit.ly/32jCm6H).
We have the means to make this a reality – let’s act now.