8 November 2017

Tanzania: Health Benefits From Eating Vegetables and Fruits

HOW frequently do you eat fruits and vegetables? Do you know what happens to your body if you don't eat vegetables? These were interesting questions asked at Tasani village in South Unguja where a 'vegetable day' was organized.

Health experts warned that if you're among those who don't eat enough vegetables, nutritional deficiencies might affect your health. A response of smiles and laughter was probably an indication that many people in the village are not fruits and vegetable consumers.

"I rarely eat fruits and vegetables, even my own children are not interested," said Omar Kombo, a villager. Health researchers say that eating vegetables is more important to your health than you might have thought because the food contain some of the most vital nutrients for our health.

Different studies have proved that only few people, both in developed and developing countries use it regularly. Scientists say that eating too few fruits and veggies can result in nutrients deficiencies, which can cause many body complications including anaemia from lack offolate, depression and confusion from vitamin B6 deficiency, night blindness from lack of vitamin A, general weakness from lack of magnesium deficiency, haemorrhaging from lack of vitamin K and irregular heartbeat from potassium deficiency.

Although you could get some of these nutrients from other foods, fruits and veggies contain high concentrations and are therefore great sources of them, and it is recommended to consume not less than three daily servings of vegetables (per person per day, or 400g per day), and should form a large part of your diet.

Eating more animal-based foods and fried snack products, for instance, increases your caloric and fat intake placing you at risk of con tracting chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and night blindness and becoming overweight because of deficiency in potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and K.

It also leads to malnutrition and stunting in children. Stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.

Also children are defined as stunted if their height-forage is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median. Acting on the devastating findings from the research on malnutrition, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO) and other International organizations have been leading the global initiative 'Promotion of Fruit and Vegetables for Health.'

The campaign also include raising awareness and to boost fruit and vegetable production, supply and consumption to improve people's health and farmers' incomes. Health experts argue further that regular consumption of a variety of fruit and vegetables is essential for a well balanced diet and for avoiding non-communicable diseases (NCDs), while low intake of fruit and vegetable is largely attributed to unhealthy diets in developed countries, it signals poverty and food insecurity in developing countries.

Health institutions in most countries have in recent years established strategies for NCD prevention and have been implementing programmes to advocate for healthy diets and lifestyles through the increased consumption of fruit and vegetables.

In support of the global initiative to promote growing and consumption of fruits and vegetables, "Home garden Scaling Project' initiated by the World Vegetable Centre has been introduced in Tanzania to encourage the farming. HORTI-Tengeru in Arusha, Helen Keller International, some District Council (in Tanzania mainland), Ministry of Health and social welfare, and Ministry of Agriculture (in Zanzibar) have been facilitating the implementation of the project funded by the Bureau of Food Security of USAID since 2014.

The 'home gardens' are designed with the main purpose of increasing household consumption of vegetables to enhance the nutritional status of the household members particularly to children below 5-years of age and women of reproductive age (14-35 years) by increasing the availability of micronutrient (vitamins A and C, folate, iron, zinc, etc.) sources through cultivation of diverse vegetable crops.

According to Mr Allex Alen- Consultant 'Home garden Scaling Project', the focus is to increase the awareness of the nutritional importance of vegetables in attaining balanced diets among vulnerable groups (i.e. women, smallholder farmers, youth and children) and Increase availability and supply of selected nutrient-dense vegetables.

Also the objective is to build the capacity of target vulnerable groups in the use of productivity-enhancing crop, water management and post harvest handling practices and accelerate behavioural change for increased consumption of vegetables among the targeted vulnerable groups through the development of recipes that are easy-to-prepare, cost-effective and marketable in selected USAID 'Feed the Future' horticulture target and spillover districts in Tanzania.

"The objective is expected to be achieved through distribution of nutrient-rich vegetable seed kits, promotion of vegetable productions and consumption through sensitization meeting, farmers' field day and cook shows, demonstration plots and training of community based trainers," Alen said.

Adding that three-year since the project started with three villages in 2015 to 2017, is closing with 12 Zanzibar villages out of 50 villages in Tanzania. More than 12,500 seed kits have been distributed to the beneficiaries in the selected villages.

Mr Alen said that In celebrating the success so far in promoting growing and eating fruits and vegetables, 'Farmers field day' was held last week in Tasani village, Makunduchi in South Unguja where farmers including from nearby villages gathered to participate in the event in which 'household gardens' were demonstrated alongside cooking and tasting of different vegetable recipes.

"It was an interactive event which aimed to promote production and consumption of vegetables by the household, awareness creation and sensitization on nutrition importance of indigenous vegetable. About 209 farmers participated in the event," Mr Alen said.

Ms Siajabu Ramadhani Hajji, on behalf of the beneficiaries, thanked the organizers of 'field visit' in Tasani village, saying it was helpful and they make the best use of the knowledge to ensure that more people grow vegetables, consume for health and also sell to get income.

Ms Hajji was one of the trainees supposed to pass over the knowledge to other people in the villages as Ms Subira Bakari-nutritional officer, Zanzibar ministry of health, said malnutrition (lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough of the right things) is high.

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