Balancing Ghanaian Diets The Indigenous Way

What do you look out for in foods to classify them as a balanced diet, is it more meat, fat or carbohydrate?

Does a bowl full of assorted vegetables represent a balanced diet or a bit of each nutrient in their recommended proportions?

Depending on culture, lifestyle, work and health history, what comprises a balanced diet may vary from one person to another. However what is worth noting is that a balanced diet meets the nutritional needs of the consumer.

According to literature, a balanced diet is a diet that consists of differing kinds of foods in certain quantities and proportions such that the requirement for calories, and the various macro and micro nutrients is adequate and a small provision is reserved for additional nutrients to endure the short length of leanness.

There are many kinds of foods in Ghana. From the common ones such as rice, kenkey, banku and fufu which are easy to find in local food joints, there are others that are usually found in areas dominated by people from a particular cultural background. For example it is likely to come across waakye or Tuo Zaafi (TZ) in a typical Muslim community.

Aside from nature of work and lifestyle, our cultural background also determines the kind of foods often prepared at home.

Convenient foods have flooded our market and consumers now have a choice to pick food items that requires cooking from scratch, cooking with minimal processing or ready to eat.

The usual breakfast in Ghana comprises of but not limited to porridge from grains such as corn, millet, sorghum accompanied with pastry like bread, buffloaf and sometimes biscuits. These foods are either prepared at home or mostly sold in the communities. They contain mainly carbohydrates with small amounts of protein and fats. Minerals and vitamins are usually very low in these foods due to exposure to high heat, long processing time and less to no addition of vegetables.

In Ghana, some people opt for instant drinks and cereals which are easy to prepare as breakfast. The advantage these foods have over the others is that that are mostly fortified with vitamins and minerals and usually are able to contribute to the daily amounts of nutrients needed by the body.

One may think of breakfast as a light meal however a fraction of the population prefer heavy meals in the morning. Therefore it is common to find foods such as waakye, rice, beans, yam and kenkey in certain communities and construction sites. These foods often are to some extent nutritionally balanced as compared with lighter breakfast foods sold in the community.

As we encourage citizens to consider healthy food choices amidst their busy work schedules and lifestyle, there is a need to redevelop indegenous ingredients into shelf stable products to encourage more people to reconsider cooking at home whilst saving time. In developing shelf stable products, the rate of ingredient spoilage and waste generated after harvesting, transporting and during sales may reduce appreciably.

Additionally, we would be able to complement foods low in certain nutrients with other foods high in that nutrient hence meeting the nutritional needs of the community.

With effective interventions, people in communities where these indigenous crops are grown can be taken through intensive trainings and provided needed resources to develop shelf stable products from crops that provide appreciable amount of macro and micro nutrients.

In the short term, non-governmental organizations, volunteers and institutional bodies can collaborate to offer the required guidance and assistance to farmers and local food businesses.

Ultimately it is the expectation that all Ghanaians have access to healthy food choices, and local food businesses producing safe and nutritious foods by utilizing crops locally grown.

Ghana has all the necessary ingredients to develop nutritious foods, be it vegetables, grains and protein sources. With appropriate training and mentoring, local food manufacturers can be assisted in developing shelf stable products that also provide nutritional benefits. This would encourage home cooked meals preparation as well as support small scale business developments.

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