Making significant changes to a person’s diet can sometimes seem overwhelming, especially when it is for improved health outcomes.
Nutritionists say tweaking a daily lifestyle, a little bit like avoiding any form of meat at least once a week can help reduce the risks of developing chronic diseases.
The 2022 World Health Day (WHD), observed on April 7, for instance, serves as a timely reminder of the complex link between the planet and our health, as the burden of non-communicable and infectious diseases rises alongside the growing incidence of climate-related challenges.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa, in a message on WHD said the knock-on effect for the burden of heart and lung disease, stroke, and cancer, among others, was evident from statistics that point to NCDs representing a growing proportion of Africa’s disease burden.
“In Africa, NCDs are set to overtake communicable diseases, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional conditions combined, to become the leading cause of death by 2030. COVID-19, along with spiraling obesity, diabetes, and hypertension rates, compounds the challenge, highlighting the urgency of a multi-sectoral response,” she said.
Dr Afua Commeh, the Acting Programme Manager for the Non-Communicable Diseases Control Programme, at the GHS told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that three NCDs- hypertension, diabetes, and cancers could be described as the leading cause of morbidities and mortalities in the country.
Non- Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are disease conditions that are not infectious and cannot be transmitted from one person to the other.
To address the high incidence of NCD infection in Ghana, the John Hopkins Center for Communication Programs is partnering with the GHS to start a Meatless Monday campaign; a public health campaign that seeks to reduce the incidence of preventable diseases by dedicating every Monday to Health.
Meatless Monday, started in 2003 in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and provides an opportunity to introduce a wider awareness of the impact of food consumption patterns on our health and environment.
Mr Sylvester Segbaya, Chief of Party of Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs said Meatless Monday is a global movement that enables people to make positive changes in their diet – and their lives – simply by choosing not to eat meat one day in a week.
He said in the past two decades, Ghana’s population structure has changed from being highly rural to urbanized and as urban communities spread all over the country, lifestyles including food habits continue to change.
“Eating of meat, which used to be part of the family menu only during festive seasons, has now become a common feature in households as people now earn more money and are able to buy beef, mutton, and chicken on a more regular basis,” he said.
He said the rise in meat consumption in big towns and cities, which comes with an increased risk of heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, and sudden death deserved a lot more attention now.
Mr Segbaya said the Meatless Monday initiative seeks to highlight the health and environmental benefits of cutting down on the amount of meat intake and increased intake of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.
He said Monday was chosen for the campaign because research had shown that starting the working week on a healthy note by choosing to abstain from eating meat on Monday was a positive move towards a healthier happier life.
Research has shown that diets high in red and processed meat and meat products have been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer particularly
colorectal cancer, obesity among others.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO-IARC) for instance classifies red meat and processed meat as probably carcinogenic – cancer-causing for humans.
It associates high levels of uric acid in the blood leading to gout and kidney stones with the intake of red meat and sea food.
Mrs Naana Anane Adjei, a registered dietician at the 37 Military Hospital said, generally, nutrients in meat were more bioavailable than plant nutrients and protein from meat is “complete” as it contains all the amino acids needed for health.
She said although meat contained heme iron, which is better absorbed than non-heme iron provided by plant foods, low consumption of meat could contribute to weight loss and improved heart health.
The dietician said a healthy balanced diet can include protein from fish and eggs or non-animal sources such as beans and pulses, groundnut soup with oysters, snails, and mushrooms, kontomire, among others.