The Global Food Security Index has placed Bangladesh at 107 out of 113 countries in the Quality and Safety of Food. Yet, few statistical parameters have improved in terms of Malnutrition. For instance, the malnutrition rate has come down from 20.8% to 13% in a span of 18 years (2000- 2018). In the year 2004, among children under 5 years of age, the shortness rate was 51%, leanness rate was 15%, the underweight rate was 43%; in 2019, it decreased to 28%, 9.6%, and 22.6% respectively. On the other hand, Grains are the major source of the total food intake (More than 60%) in Bangladesh, hence, more than 50% of the total population suffers from the scarcity of proper protein in general diets. It is undeniable that the government of our country has been making efforts to improve the nutrition situation of the country. The malnutrition indicators for children under five shows that the country has seen improvements in most sectors which is evident with the decrease in the mortality rate.
Bangladesh's tremendous success in fish production growth has transformed its population's otherwise low-protein diet to diversified and rich sustenance. Bangladesh today belongs to a small league of countries that provide over half of the food proteins from fish sources.
Then what is the protein challenge?
United Nation's FAO claims that the country has yet not been able to ensure food security for its citizens. In Bangladesh, especially in the rural parts, our diets commonly contain rice, vegetables, small quantities of pulses and fish. Due to such dietary choices, our country has been struggling with the burden of under-nutrition and malnutrition for several years now. Even meat consumption is believed to be low due to income disparity.
Besides these national issues, the simple preference for consuming rice and rice and curry variants indicates a high level of carbohydrate intake compared to protein. While fruits and vegetables provide us with other essential nutrients like vitamin, calcium etc. they still may not suffice our protein needs. Protein is the essential 'building block of life, and responsible for contributing to our muscle and bone health is yet lacking in daily diets.
Why is protein consumption important?
A high protein intake can help with weight loss, increase muscle mass, and improve overall health. Protein is one of the most important components of each cell in the body. Adequate protein intake is essential for our bodies to function properly. It is crucial for the development of muscles, hair, blood, connective tissue, antibodies, enzymes, and a lot more. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your minimum nutritional requirements and not the specific amount you are supposed to eat every day. This means one would have to measure the exact amount of protein that is required in their bodies. Protein intake can be calculated through freely available tools such as Protein-O-Meter on www.righttoprotein.com which asks for height, weight, and activity levels to determine required protein intake levels.
How can we increase our protein intake?
We have the key role in supporting the government to increase our protein intake however we can. The best method of increasing protein intake is to include protein-rich whole foods in daily diets.
- Grains – There are several high protein grains such as millets, jowar, ragi and wheat that can be consumed to increase protein intake. Among many, oats are one with the highest amount of proteins – a total of 13.6 grams of protein in 100 grams of oats.
- Nuts – Several commonly known and widely consumed nuts such as peanuts, almonds, cashew nuts, and pistachios have high protein value. Soy nuts among these have the highest amount of proteins - which is over 35 grams of protein in 100 grams of soy nuts. Nuts like Almonds not only contain great nutritional value but also add flavour and crunch to your salads or breakfast.
- Poultry & Meat – Several poultry-based products such as eggs, chicken, duck, and meat-based products such as beef, mutton, lamb, and pork are high in protein. All of these foods contain approximately 20 grams of protein for 100 grams of quantity. It is advised to include lean, slightly larger cuts of meat to significantly boost the protein content in meals.
- Fish: Fish is filled with Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamins. Canned fish is a fantastic way to boost protein intake. It is a convenient source of high-quality protein and beneficial omega - 3 fatty acids. Topping your salad or meals with poultry, cheese, fish or legumes will help you meet your protein needs and stay full.
- Eggs: Eggs contain high amounts of protein, iron and vitamin. Eating whole eggs can reduce the risk of heart diseases. Replacing cereal with egg boosts protein consumption, makes you feel fuller & helps you eat fewer calories. Three large eggs provide 19 gm of high protein, along with important nutrients like selenium & choline.
- Dairy: Dairy products like Cheese and Greek Yogurt make for great sources of protein and calcium. They are not only full of nutrition but also are great options for add ons or snacks. Cheese can also be consumed by those suffering from cholesterol to improve heart health.
- Seeds - The seeds category features many protein-rich seeds such as chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc. Leading the list is sunflower seeds, which contains approximately 20 grams of protein per 100 grams of the seeds.
How can the nation proceed towards protein sufficiency?
Different public and private sector organisations are coming up with solutions like rice fortification and other nutritional programs, contributing to the greater good of our country. We all must understand the need for protein consumption and the different methods of consuming it.
Increasing knowledge about protein sources – People know that they can acquire their protein from fish, but there are many protein whole foods that are yet to make it to the daily diets. Easily accessible protein-rich pulses such as soybeans, chickpeas, lentils can help increase protein intake.
Introducing awareness programs to increase awareness - All important stakeholders such as the government, public and private organizations, the media, influencers, etc. should come together and engage and/ or introduce protein awareness programs such as Right To Protein, that can help people learn more about protein sources. Such programmes can help people realize the next steps such as daily monitoring, different methods of cooking, etc.
Encouraging the production of alternative sources of protein – Since the distribution of meat is a problem, the government can encourage and support farmers to increase the production of alternate and cheaper sources of protein. Availability of alternate sources of proteins will help people to include different protein-rich whole foods in their daily diets to increase protein intake.
It is the need of the hour to be self-aware and understand the signs of protein deficiency. To curb the rise in nutrition problems of the country, awareness and consumption of a protein-rich diet can help the nation be protein sufficient soon.
The author is the Chief Nutritionist at Labaid Specialized Hospital in Dhanmondi