Editor's Note [Volume 21 No. 2 (2021)]

“Nutrition Year of Action”

The Nutrition Year of Action is 2021, launched by a number of countries on December 14, 2020, designed to address the global hunger and nutrition crisis that was made worse by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. What does that mean? For anyone not taking what they eat seriously after 2020, the COVID-19 year, then something is wrong. It became clear very quickly that the coronavirus was an attack on the human immune system. There have been other viruses in the recent past that have attacked the immune system as well, the most notable being HIV/AIDS. This has meant that any treatment regime has a chance only if it includes near-potent levels of micronutrients and generally good nutrition. In fact, those of us familiar with the management of HIV/AIDS know that sticking to a fairly good diet increases chances of survival by maintaining a healthy weight.

When one is healthy, one’s body is able to utilize medications well. Those who do not maintain a healthy lifestyle have a higher chance of succumbing due to opportunistic infections. With better nutrition, backed by a good dose of immune-boosting micronutrients, HIV-infected people stand a much better chance of living a normal life, and without any stigma. But then HIV/AIDS did not bring the world to a standstill. Thank God, now with good management, it is no longer a killer condition. But see what COVID-19 has done to the whole world. No corner has been spared. Everyone knows a healthy diet is important to prevent and/or manage COVID-19.

What COVID-19 has revealed to us food and nutrition scientists is that we have a lot to learn about nutrients and immunity. The recommended guidelines most likely need to be revisited. Also, given changes in lifestyle, environment, and food handling practices, it is possible that what we have always as TRUTH needs to be revised. One also finds that nutrient supplements have never been an alternative to food, and as such have tended to be fairly expensive and beyond the reach of many consumers. The other problem, and more fundamental is that most people do not even know how to use these supplements. Yet now, these nutrient supplements are part and parcel of the treatment protocol for COVID-19. For example, one hears is that we must take more vitamins B12, C and D3, and mineral Zinc to be able to boost immunity to reasonable levels. But who is there to tell whether people are overdosing? Who is regulating the supplements? Should they be regulated? Is this something of concern?

Then we have antioxidants, which include some crucial well-known nutrients like vitamin C; but there are others, lutein, lycopene, just to name a handful. Antioxidants are found mostly in colored foods and protect the body cells against damage by oxidants. At the moment, most consumers I know read of something good and then they add it to their diets. One of the primary guiding factors I learned when I started to study nutrition is that nutrients are many, some known and many still unknown and we continue to discover them through research. Yet, consumers do not know much, and even those of us operating in this area should admit there is a lot we do not know. Something else I was taught was that all these nutrients work in unison, so that too much of one can affect the function of another.

What we know, however, is that a balanced diet is preferred and that too much of anything can be injurious to our health. We also know that such additives as sugar, fat, and salt need to be used in moderation as they tend to overwork the more protective antioxidants. Many products are now appearing on the market with little accompanying credible scientific data. Again, who should be the regulator?

If you have not been eating more vegetables and fruits, please do. And do not dismiss the healthy concoctions your grandmother used to use to protect her children’s health. Just take time and learn more about those especially in these pandemic times. For 2021, therefore, ACTION is the word, not just TALK. Nutrition matters when it is put into action. Also question and seek more knowledge.

This is the time to invest in training, retraining, research and a re-examination of the guidelines, advisories, policies, recommendations and charters and even a redefinition of what food is. What we consume virtually determines our health status. It is time to act.

Our Guest Editor for this issue is a long-term friend who introduced me to the United Nations system and got me involved in many of the consultations under his watch. The most important one was FOOD-BASED DIETARY GUIDELINES. Prof John Lipien was Head of Food Consumption and Nutrition Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the time. John is retired now but continues to be very active both intellectually and physically. We appreciate his contribution as a Guest Editor for this issue. And John, I appreciate you for your immense support to my career over the decades. We wish you many more years of good health.

In this issue we have 14 well reviewed articles, and wish to congratulate our authors for this achievement, and to thank our amazing review team for their dedication and selfless commitment. We feature obituaries of two top scientists that I knew. May their souls rest in Eternal Peace. Prof Joseph Mukiibi was the immediate past Chairman of Kilimo Trust, headquartered in Uganda and for which I serve as a Trustee.

Ruth Oniang'o
Editor-in-Chief, AJFAND


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