LAST week, Zimbabwean Journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono torched a storm on social media when he attacked Zimbabwe’s staple food, Sadza and suggested through his tweet that Zimbabweans should dump Maize meal Sadza for small grains since Maize was only fit for livestock consumption. “Sadza has ZERO value to our well-being!” he said. “Our ancestors ate superior starch than Sadza. Why aren’t we doing the same? Maize is originally Mexican. In advanced economies, it is for cattle!”
By Michael Gwarisa
He also added that Maize meal is fortified because it lacks the required nutrients for the body. But was Hopewell entirely wrong for suggesting that white maize meal was unfit for human consumption and therefore should be dumped? Only nutritionist know.
Zimbabwe is still experiencing high cases of malnutrition and according to the 2020 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac) survey, Stunting remains the biggest form of malnutrition in the country and in 2020 it was reported to be at 29.4% for children under the age of five. Stunting is caused by the lack of micronutrients in foods and to address the Stunting burden, Zimbabwe in 2015 launched the Zimbabwe National Food Fortification Strategy 2014—2018. The strategy, which is aligned to the National Food and Nutrition Strategy for Zimbabwe, serves as a guide at both policy and implementation levels to prevent micro-nutrient deficiencies.
Zimbabwe’s food fortification drive targeted sugar, cooking oil, maize meal, and wheat flour for fortification. According to the fortification strategy, Sugar is being fortified with vitamin A; cooking oil with vitamin A and D; and wheat flour and maize meal with vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, folic acid, iron and zinc. Small grains have however proven to have a lot of micro-nutrients and their non-soluble fibre content is high. This fibre helps to regulate glucose absorption and provides with a satiety effect.
Nutritionists who spoke to HealthTimes said white maize meal and Sadza was equally healthy as small grain meal and is fit for human consumption. Tendai Gunda, a Zimbabwean nutrition expert said the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) had noted that nutritional value of maize is comparable to other cereals that form the staple of many other nations.
Maize is somewhat superior to wheat flour and only a little inferior to rice. To say that maize is devoid of any nutritional value is a misnomer. 100g of maize provides approximately between 14% -18% of the recommended daily caloric requirements for an adult. Indeed, maize is not a perfect food either as it is deficient in some nutrients. For example, the protein in maize is deficient in the amino acids’ lysine and tryptophan. However, complementing maize with a legume like beans or nyemba improves the quality of protein consumed.
“Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc, selenium, and Niacin content of maize meets about 25% of the RDA. Be that as it may, the nutrient content of highly polished mealie-meal is greatly diminished by the refinement processes. The government has put in place various strategies to not only to address these losses but also further enrich our staple food with micronutrients that are of public health concern in Zimbabwe,” said Gunda.
She added that Food Fortification, bio-fortification promotion of consumption of diversified diets were among some of the strategies being promoted by Nutritionists and the government of Zimbabwe to boost the nutritional value of local foods.
“No one food is a super food, but one food such as our beloved staple food in combination with other food groups will deliver the nutrients our bodies need to function optimally.”
Dexter Chagwena, a Nutritionist Consultant in the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) said maize meal was not being fortified because it has low nutrients but because fortification was an effective strategy that has proven to work scientifically.
“Sadza is very much fit for human consumption. It does consist of nutrients that are derived from maize. Remember there are carbohydrates, protein and some vitamins in maize. So when you grind whole maize meal, we normally refer to as “Mugaiwa” we get all these nutrients. When we over process maize like we usually do when we sell that maize meal which is too white, we lose most of these nutrients,” said Mr Chagwena.
He added that small grains such as pearl millet have this effect called low glycemic index which means when one eats them, their blood sugar does not necessarily shoot up, hence offering protection for conditions related to diabetes mellitus and obesity.
“You fortify a food that is eaten by many people and you reach all those people with the nutrient of choice in a very short time. So in this case we realised that many people (in their blood and bodies), they were lacking iron, vitamin A and folic acid. So we thought to ourselves, what is it that we can do to add these micro-nutrients so that we could reach the entire Zimbabwean population in a very short space of time to prevent health consequences linked to these micro-nutrient deficiencies. That’s why we pursued fortification.”
He added that data was analyzed on consumption patterns of food in Zimbabwe and it emerged that more than 95% of people in Zimbabwe consume Sadza, cooking oil, flour and sugar on a daily basis in Zimbabwe hence the decision to target these foods for fortification.
“We decided to fortify these foods for this reason. We are only using these foods as a “vehicle” to deliver these micro-nutrients lacking in our bodies. We know that this works because in the 90s we used to have a problem of Goitre and many abnormalities caused by a deficiency in iodine.
“So we took iodine and put it in our salt, because salt was consumed by almost everyone and we were able to eliminate iodine deficiency within 3 to 5 years. We did not select salt because it lacked nutrients or it was an unhealthy or healthy choice, No. We selected salt because it is consumed by the almost everyone and we needed to deliver iodine to everyone in a short space of time. This is what we have done this time with Sadza and other staples.”
Dr Tonde Matsungo from the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe encouraged Zimbabweans to watch the portions of Sadza they eat be it white grain Sadza or small colored grain.
“The problem with refined white Sadza is it has less micronutrient content than small grains. Still families can go for straight run Mugaiwa better version of white maize. Now we recommend people to diversify also introduce small grains and also orange maize (rich in pro-vitamin A). So the trick is variety and not that white maize is unfit for humans
““Further we worry about the quantities that people consume Some of the portions are too big for people who are not active. That way it’s an issue because people gain weight and become obese thus at increased risk of diabetes or hypertension or cancers and others,” said Dr Matsungo.
He added that even though there isn’t much need to fortify small grains, thy contain some anti nutritional factors that limit the absorption of nutrients in the gut.
“However, there are preparatory techniques that can be done to reduce these anti-nutrients e.g. Roasting of the small grains before grinding or overnight socking (fermentation) the small grain meal before preparing porridge or Sadza.”
Meanwhile, Kudakwashe Zombe a nutritionist and the National Coordinator for the Zimbabwe Civil Society Scaling Nutrition Alliance (ZCSOSUNA) said maintaining a balanced diet is what counts the most as both small grains and white grain maize meal have the same nutritional value.
“White maize meal together with small grains are healthy high carbohydrate foods. The main function of carbohydrates is to provide energy to the body including the brain. Carbohydrates are served with other food sources such as proteins and vegetables this ensures that the body gets all the nutrients it requires.