Tinomuda Chakanyuka and Robin Muchetu Sunday News Reporters
THE rapid increase in diabetes cases and the poor pass rate in schools has been directly linked to the country’s dietary staple — isitshwala/sadza.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, diabetes cases have increased by 300 percent over the past 10 years and one in every three children are stunted in Zimbabwe, while an organisation promoting healthy eating has revealed that micronutrient deficiency as a result of an unbalanced diet lowers intelligence quotient (IQ).
Isitshwala, meat and vegetables make up the most basic and staple meal for lunch or supper for an average Zimbabwean family. For decades, Zimbabweans have delightfully survived on this basic diet which has become a definitive part of their culture. Isitshwala is the constant in this diet equation in which the relish alternates between beef, chicken or fish and at times vegetables in the form of rape, chomolia and cabbage.
After partaking this Zimbabweans boldly claim to be eating healthy. But alas! They may actually be feeding themselves to an array of ailments ranging from anaemia, diabetes, depression, low IQ, and stunted growth in children among other conditions.
Zimbabweans could be living at the mercy of that which they relish the most.
Dieticians and nutritionists recommend that a balanced diet should consist of 25 percent starch, 25 percent protein and 50 percent vegetables, preferably in their raw form. However, researchers have established that an average meal for a Zimbabwean consists of 80 percent starch while the rest of the nutrients make up the remaining 20 percent.
Naturopathy physician Dr Trust Gumisai Marandure told Sunday News that humans are feeding themselves to their death due to poor eating habits and lack of knowledge.
“People are in the dark about the food they eat, they are basically eating junk food which has no nutritional value on them at all and this is leading to all sorts of diseases that are killing people,” said Dr Marandure.
He said people have to eat raw food which he said is safest.
“Raw food is healthy food, people should eat fruit and vegetables, that is what is recommended because if we cook our food we are killing it and our bodies do not need dead food which makes raw foods greatly recommended,” he said.
The naturopathy physician said raw food should be included in one’s diet on a daily basis so as to prevent diseases and for the body to produce clean blood.
“The meat and sadza diet is problematic as meat contaminates blood and we become infected with disease. Worse for those that are HIV positive, the virus is happy when you eat meat. Same applies for people who have a history of hypertension; meat is not recommended as a daily dose,” said Dr Marandure.
The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 89 percent of children in Zimbabwe are falling short of the minimum required diet. WFP also notes that dietary diversity is generally poor and consumption of protein is insufficient. Only 11 percent of Zimbabwean children six to 23 months old receive a minimum acceptable diet. One-third of Zimbabwe’s children are stunted or short for their age. Ms Shelley Lasker, a director at e-Pap Zimbabwe, said billions of people around the world suffer from “hidden hunger’’ or micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiencies.
e-Pap technologies uses state-of-the-art nutritional chemistry to produce fortified, pre-cooked foods formulated to address “hidden hunger” and to restore the consumer’s optimum micronutrient status in a cost effective way.
Ms Lasker said people do not get enough micronutrients required to lead healthy productive lives from the foods that they eat. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin A, zinc, and iron) and are absolutely essential for good health.
“Micronutrient deficiencies can lower IQ, cause stunting and blindness in children, lower resistance to disease in both children and adults, increase risks for both mothers and infants during childbirth and reduce productivity in adults and children. It is estimated that about one million of the three million child deaths that occur each year as a result of under nutrition are due to hidden hunger,” she said.
Latest data from the National Micronutrient Survey of 2012, shows that 19 percent of children between the critical ages of six and 59 months are vitamin A deficient, 72 percent are iron deficient and 31 percent are anaemic while 23,9 percent of women of child-bearing age (15-49) are Vitamin A deficient and 26 percent are anaemic.
Micronutrient malnutrition also referred to as ‘‘hidden hunger’’, as a consequence of these and other micronutrient deficiencies, has prevented more than five million Zimbabweans from realising their full potential as students, workers, parents and citizens.
“The problem with the average Zimbabwean diet is that up to 80 percent of the person’s diet consists of starch, usually mealie-meal. As most mealie-meal available today is refined, given the drought situation and shortage of rural maize, the sadza is high in carbohydrate but lacking in critical vitamins and minerals.
“The reason that the bulk of the Zimbabwean’s diet is sadza is primarily economics. This is cheap food but it is also a lack of understanding how important it is to have a balanced diet. A balanced diet is one where only 25 percent of the plate is starch (sadza), 25 percent protein (meat, fish, beans etc) and 50 percent vegetables,” Ms Lasker said.
It is also important that a person has as many colours as possible on their plate. Most Zimbabweans focus on chomolia but people need a lot of different kinds of vegetables to get their vitamins and minerals, ideally a person needs a minimum of five colours on their plate, but in Zimbabwe it is white (sadza), green (chomolia) and brown (meat or beans).
Some of the challenges that come with eating this dull-looking and unhealthy diet include stunting at birth — one in three children are stunted in Zimbabwe already according to the Ministry of Health and Unicef, lack of concentration for children at school who then cannot learn properly and adults cannot function efficiently due to this.
“When a person’s diet is 80 percent starch and starch converts to sugar in the body it is no wonder there has been a 300 percent increase in diabetes in Zimbabwe over the past 10 years. For the HIV affected a healthy balanced diet is critical, and a good diet helps ARVs to work more efficiently,” Ms Lasker said.
In 2015 it was estimated that Zimbabwe was losing about $43 million of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually as more than 500 000 people suffer from malnutrition while 7 700 children and women died annually due to lack of essential vitamins and minerals required in the body.
The country’s national nutrition strategy (NNS) for 2014 to 2018 which was launched last year showed that the “human and economic consequences of the current micronutrient deficiencies in the Zimbabwean population are grave”.
The policy which is the first of its kind in the region indicates that the country is losing millions of dollars with thousands of both women and children dying as a result of inadequate knowledge and practices regarding appropriate and healthy diets for children and adults.
“About 7 700 children and mothers are dying every year due to micronutrient deficiency, lack of essential vitamins and minerals required in the body, (iron, vitamin A, zinc, and folic acid). Cognitive growth losses in children will debilitate about 900 000 of the current population of under-fives resulting in future productivity deficits equivalent to $16 million in annual GDP,” reads the strategy.
“In adults, productivity performance deficit is estimated to affect more than 500 000 workers, resulting in an estimated GDP deficit of $43 million annually. Micronutrient deficiencies are also contributing to higher morbidity that is preventable, for instance about 3,5 million more cases of diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, low birth weight and birth defects which are estimated to cost the health system and families an additional $4 million per annum.”