By Sulaimon Salau
‘You are what you eat’ is a very common saying that prioritizes the importance of eating good food in order to stay healthy and fit. Due to the awareness created by nutritionists and health experts, people are changing the way they think about food, becoming more conscious about what goes into their bodies through their mouths.
However, as much as this awareness is gathering momentum and they would love to eat healthily, it is an indubitable fact that in the face of economic hardship, many are succumbing to substituting quantity for quality. An ordinary day in the market would leave a buyer’s mouth agape at the frightening volume of substandard products across the food chain coming under various brand names and claiming to be as superior as renowned brands.
The infiltration, which has been going on for a long time, is not only limited to food, it extends into pharmaceutical products. One of the most memorable advertising campaigns against fake products in the pharmaceutical industry was the Panadol advert which ended with ‘if e no be Panadol, e no fit be like Panadol’. It raised the consciousness of Nigerians against buying fake brands of Panadol, resulting in a boost in its sales, simultaneously dispelling claims of the drug’s efficacy. Regulatory agencies like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, and Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, have been leading from the front in curbing the menace of substandard and fake products in the market. They have been doing this in their regulatory roles with a focus on quality, distribution, sales and use of products.
Experts have urged Nigerians to ensure that the products they are buying have NAFDAC approval. As much as many may desire to buy cheap and in large quantities, remember you may be compromising your health. It is pertinent to verify important details such as date of production, expiry date, brand name, NAFDAC approval, among other vital information.
In recent times, Kaduna and some parts of the North have been heavily infiltrated with unbranded and substandard monosodium glutamate (MSG), which health experts have begun to raise alarm over the impending health implications. “Monosodium Glutamate” (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a flavour enhancer which has been used effectively for over a century to bring out the best flavours in food.
The food culture of the North being an age-old tradition of spicy and seasoned delicacies that fill the environment with an inviting aroma is a match made in palatability for the adoption of monosodium glutamate in their cooking. Little wonder it remains the biggest market for this brand of seasoning. As delicious as this combination may sound, there is danger in the abuse of the market with unbranded monosodium glutamate by merchants who are hell-bent on forcing unhealthy foods into the bodies of people.
These unbranded monosodium glutamates are sold in the open from uncovered sacks and in measurements to unsuspecting buyers who have chosen quantity over quality. Unlike leading brands like Ajinomoto, Vedan etc which are packed in sachets, NAFDAC approved, and sold in healthy sizes, these unbranded types are the opposite. The alarming part is that their manufacturers cannot be traced to check for their authenticity. More worrisome is that they are sold on the cheap which could be a signifier of their being substandard and unhealthy for human consumption.
As stated earlier, the responsibility does not belong to NAFDAC, SON and other regulatory bodies alone, every Nigerian must look out for themselves and their fellow citizens to avert this looming health hazard. Food vendors should be conscious of the health of their customers by using standard branded products in their cooking, same goes for households- wives, and housekeepers should not play games with the health of their family members. If we all could imbibe the saying “You are what you eat” whenever we visit the market, we would save many from serious health issues by shouting down the merchants of unbranded monosodium glutamate, the sellers of fake/substandard drugs, the sellers of adulterated flavoured drinks, bottle water among other items that serve as refreshments.