To have an adequate meal – one that is balanced in composition and in the right amount and quality required for the consumer – it must include protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins and water all in the right quantity and quality to meet the physiological needs of the body.
Protein is one of the essential nutrients needed by the body for growth, repair and maintenance of body and its tissues and can be fuel for the body also. In every part of your body, you will find protein, from your hair to your toes; protein is virtually everywhere. The body needs proteins.
The building blocks of proteins are called amino acids. Our bodies can make some of them. There are however some essential ones that must come from our foods.
Most high quality proteins are found in animal sources like Fish, beef, chicken. Plants are also good sources of protein but they are often incomplete. Animal proteins on the other hand are complete but can be quite expensive so other ways of getting the best out of plant proteins is to combine them with other foods to make them complete. You can also add some animal protein to the plant protein to supplement them.
I have focused on some cheaper proteins:
Nigeria has a wide variety of legumes. Many are underutilized – meaning that we do not eat them much and so they are not produced in large quantity. Among the commonly-consumed legumes we eat is the Soybean.
Soybeans are a great source of plant protein especially because it contains all the essential amino acids. Studies have shown that populations that consume meals high in soy protein and low in animal protein have lower risks of prostate and breast cancers (These are the leading cancers in Nigeria for men and women respectively). Apart from the protein soybeans also have good oil content that has shown to decrease cholesterol levels. There are so many ways to eat soybeans.
Like soybeans, other legumes are good sources of healthy proteins. Many of them do not have all the essential amino acids complete like the soybeans but combining them with other foods that have those limiting amino acids like grains makes the quality much higher. E.g. is Rice and Beans (cowpea).
Other legumes that are cheaper sources of protein in Nigeria include: Bambara groundnut, cowpea, pigeon pea, green peas, kidney beans, lima beans, jack beans . They can be combined with other food groups to improve the protein quality.
The days when we had groundnut pyramids are over but groundnuts are still very much a part of our diets. Groundnut is the most popular and widely consumed nuts that we have in Nigeria.
Groundnuts are usually eaten roasted, boiled and processed into peanut butter, used as complementary foods for infants and in soups for the family. There are many ways to use groundnuts in foods. Like legumes, groundnut is a plant source of protein. However, unlike soybeans, they do not have complete essential amino acids. The best way to consume them is to combine them with other foods such as rice, corn, wheat. Groundnuts also have many vitamins and minerals as well as a good content of fat. It is a great addition to a meal and an excellent snack for the family.
African Locust beans (Iru)
Photo credit: www.wikipedia.com
African Locust beans is a legume often fermented and used as a food condiment. When fermented, it is called Iru and Dawadawa. It is a commonly consumed source of protein and unlike other legumes; it has a fair amount of sulphur-containing amino acids. It is often used in small quantities to enhance flavor of soups, stews and other meals in West Africa. In combination with other foods containing protein, Iru or Dadadawa is a nice addition and can be used for fortification.
Wara (Local cheese)
Wara is a Nigerian local cheese. It is made by adding a coagulant to fresh boiling milk.
The most common natural coagulants are the Sodom Apple leaves also called Bombom leaves and the pawpaw leaves. The protein content is great. The main issues with Wara are about safety during processing and marketing. Wara, bought fresh, can be fried while some people re heat to reduce microbial content. Although Wara is not a common food item consumed by all Nigerians, it can contribute to an improvement of protein nutrition if hygiene is properly handled.
Photo credit: Integrateddairies.com
Like the local cheese, Wara, yoghurt is also a milk product. It is produced through fermentation of milk. It is rich in protein as well as fat. Yoghurt is being encouraged because it helps improve gut health. Yoghurts not only nourish you but they also protect your body. Studies have shown that it enhances the immune system, prevents against diarrhea and constipation, it is good for the digestive system. It is great for its calcium and may reduce risk of osteoporosis. To get the benefits of yoghurt, the locally made ones that have shorter shelf life are better than the highly processed ones that have been heat treated after fermentation, leaving no ‘live microorganisms’ that are beneficial to the gut health, serving as prebiotics.