Tanzania: How Nutrition Can Help Tackle NCDs

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Dar es Salaam — Over the recent years, the world has witnessed an alarming transition in diet.

Food has been going through many processes with calories from meat, sugar, oil and fats also increasing at an alarming rate, living those nutritious food intake declining.

Consequently, this transition has seen on the increase in the global prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Studies have shown a close link between food, nutrition and diet to be a variable risk factor of most NCDs whereas specific nutrient deficiency or excess trigger the development of NCDs and that appropriate dietary changes may reduce the risk of NCDs. Tanzania like many developing countries has been exposed to food and diets that have put its people at a high risk of being overweight and obese, a major risk factor for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

The Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDSH) 2015-2016 report shows that nine per cent of adults are diabetic and 26 per cent are obese.

Deborah Esau, a Nutritionist based at The Partnership for Nutrition in Tanzania (Panita) says that dieting habits are a big issue and a risk factor for most NCDs in our country.

In most cases, people still hold the belief that eating well means consuming junk food, she adds.

"If you don't control your eating habits, you are likely to get these chronic diseases. Most people living in town are exposed to junk food and most of them think that is eating well. However, the case is different when you go to villages where the prevalence of such diseases is low and the reason is because most of them don't eat lavishly - they either don't have enough to eat or whatever food they have, they cook it simply,' says Ms Esau.

Most poor eating habits have highly being attributed by the kind of job that people in the city do that do not allow them to have enough time to prepare the proper meals.

The consequence is missing out on micro nutrients that we get from fruits and vegetables, explains Ms Esau. "The thing about foods which are being cooked on streets is that we don't know how much salt or if the salt used is the one recommended or the type of cooking oil used is healthier, but you just have to eat since you are hungry. Most junk food have empty calories and so with time and no exercise, sedentary life, one is likely to get obese, which is a risk factor for many NCDs," she says.

Eating the right food

Ms Esau says staying healthy requires determination and commitment to improve our lifestyle - which is the best way to avoid catching such diseases. She says one should prioritise health and keep in mind the damage that could come along with poor lifestyle. "First,we need to change our eating habits by starting to eat healthier - this includes moving from eating the only two types of food staple--ugali and rice-- to diversifying food varieties. Also we should pay should not overcook our food while paying attention to the quantity of cooking oil, salt and even sugar. Everything should be used in moderation," Ms Esau advises. For those who are working, Ms Esau suggests that instead of opting for fast food , they can try to prepare their own food for lunch.

"We should try as much as we can to carry food from home, especially when our office surroundings don't give us enough options to buy food which is well prepared and healthier. Also we should learn to eat as a king in the morning and eat as a slave in the evening meaning eating little but healthier food."

Being physically active is something Ms Esau emphasises on, for instance, walking at least 20 minutes a day for those who are working can also help reduce the risk. "You cannot be sitting in your office the whole day. Exercising helps in blood circulation and keeping the body fit and we should also learn to take everything in moderation such as the amount of alcohol we consume," says the expert. Understanding that the risk factors are not the same for everyone, as some people are more prone to getting diabetes while others are more vulnerable with cancer or high blood pressure and so on, she says getting regular check-ups can help detect and treat such these diseases earlier.

National nutrition strategy

The government developed the National Nutrition Strategy (NNS) to put forward the priorities for July 2011 to June 2016. This strategy aimed at ensuring that the nation and its people are properly nourished. The strategy was in-line with, and will contribute to, the National Development Vision 2025, Mkukuta (National Strategy for Growth and Poverty Reduction), the African Regional Nutrition Strategy (2005-2015) and the policies and strategies of the Tanzanian government.

The goal of the strategy is that all Tanzanians attain adequate nutritional status, which is an essential requirement for a healthy and productive nation. This goal will be achieved through policies, strategies, programmes, and partnerships that deliver evidence-based and cost-effective interventions to improve nutrition.

On the other hand, in 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) convened a technical meeting of global experts on how to design financial policies on diet. The Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases 2013-2020 proposes that as appropriate to national context, countries consider the use of economic tools that are justified by evidence and may include taxes and subsidies, to improve access to healthy dietary choices and create incentives for behaviours associated with improved health outcomes and discourage the consumption of less healthy options.

It was concluded that there is reasonable and increasing evidence that appropriately designed taxes on sugar sweetened beverages would result in proportional reduction in consumption.

Healthy eating pyramid

The Healthy Eating Pyramid also addresses other aspects of a healthy lifestyle--exercise, weight control, vitamin D, and multivitamin supplements, and moderation in alcohol for people who drink--so it's a useful tool for health professionals and health educators.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid is a simple visual guide to the types and proportion of foods that we should eat every day for good health. The foundation layers include the three plant-based food groups: vegetables and legumes, fruits and grains. The middle layer includes milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives, lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes food groups.

The top layer refers to healthy fats because we need small amounts every day to support heart health and brain function.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid summarises the best dietary information available today.

They aren't set in stone, though, because nutrition researchers will undoubtedly turn up new information in the years ahead.

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