Nutritionists say certain raw foods especially those of animal origin must be properly cooked and strict hygiene practices observed during their processing to avoid contamination and food poisoning.
According to the diet experts, except for fruits and vegetables that can be consumed raw, other foods must be cooked before consumption.
Speaking in an exclusive interview, the President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Prof. Wasiu Afolabi, says except for fruits and vegetables, it is not good to consume foods raw.
Afolabi, a Professor of Community Nutrition at the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, however, said the nutrients gotten from some vegetables are better maximized when cooked than eaten raw.
The nutritionist stated that there are nutritional factors that will reduce the ability to utilise proteins that are contained in foods when consumed raw.
The don explained, “Fruits and vegetables can be eaten raw. But there are also some categories of vegetables that when eaten raw, have some anti-nutrient factors that can interact with the nutrients in them to reduce absorption such that it reduces the nutritional benefits you can get from them.
“Apart from that, legumes and some cereals are also known to have these anti-nutrient factors, some of which we call phytic acids which are antitrypsin factors. These are factors that will reduce the ability to utilise proteins that are contained in such foods.
“Then, some of these antinutritional factors also bind with minerals that are contained in such cereals and legumes such that they are not readily available for absorption by human beings when they consume them.
“So, cooking such foods and processing them reduces the level of these nutritional factors and also, makes the minerals and vitamins that we are talking about to be available for human consumption. So, except for fruits and vegetables, it is not good to consume food raw.”
Prof. Afolabi also noted that it is risky to consume foods of animal origin raw, stressing that such foods could be contaminated during processing.
“With respect to some animal foods too, the risk of contamination during human handling is there. When they are consumed raw, there are also risks of contamination – injecting microbes that are introduced during processing which will come out as poisoning for human beings. So, that is why it is not usually good to consume such foods raw.
“When meats are processed from the abattoir, you have to cook them properly. The way we handle food in this country is poor. The risk of contamination is high. Foods should be processed by observing strict hygiene practices.
“So, cooking them is very important because when you cook them, you would have destroyed microbes that could cause food poisoning for human beings.
“Except for fruits and vegetables that can be consumed raw and it is allowed, other ones must be cooked,” he said.
Continuing, the nutrition expert stated that when legumes such as beans, cowpeas, soybeans, and groundnuts are consumed raw and in large quantities, they could cause diarrhoea, gastric upset, and cramps.
He also pointed out that sea foods are also supposed to be cooked before they are consumed.
Another nutrition expert and President, Federation of African Nutrition Societies, Prof. Ngozi Nnam, told our correspondent that fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove bacteria that have been deposited on them before consumption.
“You can use salt to wash them,” she said.
Giving further insight into food contamination, Nnam, a professor of Community and Public Health Nutrition at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said, “Precisely when food is contaminated, it starts to spoil.
“We should as much as possible avoid those things that can spoil and contaminate food.
“Many things can contaminate your food depending on how you handle the food. Some bacteria are very harmful like staphylococcus bacteria.
“They are very harmful. If we don’t handle our foods properly, they can be contaminated by harmful bacteria and viruses.
“Bacteria and viruses cause all sorts of ill health, and this is why we should not allow our foods to be contaminated. Contaminated food will cause diarrhoea and malnutrition.”
Prof. Nnam, who is a past President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, pointed out that the bad thing about food being contaminated is that it will start causing ill health.
The nutritionist said, “Now, instead of that food being a means of promoting good health, the food will now begin to cause ill health.
“The nutrients in the food will no longer be used up by the body and this is one of the things that could lead to malnutrition.
“When one consumes contaminated food, instead of the nutrients being used up by the body, the food now causes harm and this could lead to serious malnutrition.”
Nigerians, she stressed, should also be careful about the way they store their foods to avoid contamination by droppings from rats and bats.
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