Ghanaian diets are becoming more westernised and generally suboptimal, a needs assessment study conducted by a team from the School of Public Health of the University of Ghana, has revealed.
This means that Ghanaians are now consuming diets that look like those of Western countries, a co-chair of the team, who is also a lecturer at the School of Public Health of the University of Ghana, Professor Richmond Aryeetey, explained.
He said instead of the traditional maize-based foods and other local foods, Ghanaians were now eating more rice, and baked and fried foods associated with Western countries.
Prof. Aryeetey said the implications for the country were that since those westernised foods had been associated with risks of overweight, obesity and noncommunicable diseases such as hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes and some cancers, those who consumed them risked getting those conditions.
“It appears that our diet has become mainly rice, meat and fish pattern. We also tend to eat street foods a lot. Across all age groups, we see that we are not eating a diverse diet,” he said.
The needs assessment was done as part of putting together a dietary guidelines for the country.
What is Ghana Food-based Dietary Guidelines?
Known as the Ghana Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (GFDG), the document educates consumers on healthy diets and provides direction for programmes and policies aiming to ensure healthy diets for all.
The Dietary Guidelines provides practical recommendation of what diets are available and affordable in a country. It further serves as a guideline for preventing ill health and promoting optimal human development.
This is the first time Ghana has developed a truly food-based dietary guideline and that makes it the fourth country in West Africa and eighth in Africa to have such a dietary guideline. Ghana Food-Based Dietary Guidelines has been designed to meet the needs of the population of Ghana that are five years old and above.
In an interview with the Daily Graphic following the launch of the guidelines in Accra last Wednesday, Prof. Aryeetey cited the results of the needs assessment done, and said diets that were expected to promote optimal health and development were not at their recommended level while there was also inadequate frequency, quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables intake as well as suboptimal intake of legumes and nuts in the diets of Ghanaians.
Describing those components as important for a healthy diet, Prof. Aryeetey further disclosed that studies done in urban Accra and in the Volta Region showed that there was a lot of access and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, fried foods and refined cereals in the country.
Providing insight into the gathering of the content of the guidelines, Prof. Aryeetey said they looked at the food systems in the country, what kind of foods were being produced across different parts of the country, the country’s food access, availability, safety issues, food environment, dietary consumption, government’s strategies for reaching different groups and also reviewed alcohol intake.
He said they observed that people were eating foods that a few years ago they were not eating, pointing out that, the international fast food chain was becoming part of the country’s food ecosystem and that was driven by the lifestyles of Ghanaians.
He called for a policy on healthier diet procurement, food safety and safety in the marketing system.
He recommended that the guidelines should guide the choices of individuals as well as population level interventions such as school feeding and other institutional food-based interventions.
Overview of recommendation
Giving an overview of the recommendation of the study, a co-chair of the team, Paulina Addy, said the study recommended that Ghanaians should consume at least two servings of fruits a day, especially those that were in season, adding that, they could be taken as part of a main meal or as snack.
She said as much as possible they should eat fresh fruits instead of the processed ones where there was the tendency to add sugar to process them.
On vegetables, she said a variety of vegetables should be eaten everyday and for those that had to be cooked, they should not be overcooked while additives that were added to some vegetables should be reduced.
Touching on legumes and cereals, she said waakye and ‘red red’ were very good meals, however, they were often drenched in so much fat which had implications on the health of the consumer.
She, therefore, called for the reduction of the oil additions to those meals.
For those who suffer adverse effects such as ‘gas’ and bloated tummies after taking those meals, she advised that they add a bit of ginger or tumeric to lighten the bloatness they experience.
Importance of dietary guideline
A former Director of Nutrition at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Prof. Anna Lartey, explained that it was important for the country to have a food-based dietary guideline because through that, the country was making a statement as to how it wanted its citizens to eat to remain healthy.
“Currently, poor diet is a major cause of diseases and death among people. So if today we have a document like this, it’s good for Ghana’s nutrition, it’s good for moving us forward. People should eat food to remain healthy. Ghana abounds in so many foods but somehow, we have put a lot of our nutritious foods aside and are eating imported, highly processed foods and they are not helping us,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Ghana, the WHO representative to Ghana, Dr Francis Kasolo, said food dietary guidelines were not meant to provide publicity for a specific food, food group, institutional meal standards or general dietary guidance but rather, constituted an important evidence-informed tool and framework for promoting healthy diets and sustainable food systems. It also provided guidance for food-related government policies as well as programme design and implementation.
The Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, Yaw Frimpong Addo, who launched the guidelines, called on all to get on board to adopt more sustainable measures through food-based approaches in addressing the myriad of challenges associated with food, nutrition and health in the country.