Protein Day 2023: An open letter to Pak nutritionists

Protein Day is celebrated on February 27 worldwide. The theme this year is “Easy Access to Protein for All.” 
While nutritional awareness continues to grow in Pakistan over the last decade, accessibility and affordability of nutritious food is a cause for concern. It is imperative to educate our population on easy access to protein sources for a healthy and well-balanced diet. 
I believe that there is one community of professionals in particular that can help raise awareness and propel change in our community – our local nutritionists.
Nutritionists are undeniably the best source to take the lead on educating citizens on the accessible, affordable sources of protein to drive protein sufficiency in Pakistan. Through awareness promoting activities such as public lectures in our communities, as well as direct 1:1 education in our clinics, we can help citizens make more informed choices around nutrients and food sources that must be included in one’s daily diet. The Pakistani nutritionists’ role has become more important than ever in today’s world, where consumers are bombarded by numerous choices in grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants and online food delivery apps. 
Despite the growing nutrition consciousness, our diets continue to be heavy on carbohydrates. Poultry contributes to about 40% of all animal protein consumed in Pakistan. However, poultry consumption is governed by income levels and only a few sections of society can afford the consumption of poultry. Beef and mutton are expensive, and fish is not readily available throughout the year. Income disparities are thwarting the goal of protein sufficiency in Pakistan. In addition, Pakistan’s poultry industry was stymied in recent years due to misconceptions about hormone use and disease transfer, especially during Covid-19, which led to a further decline in consumption. 
The protein insufficiency in our diets is exacerbated by the fact that Pakistan is suffering from a severe economic and food crisis due to the recent economic collapse, leading to food shortages and hyperinflation in food prices. This places an additional responsibility on nutritionists in the country - to identify affordable and available sources of protein and guide citizens oh how to incorporate these into their diets. 
What this essentially means is for us is that we have to take the lead in communicating the importance of protein in the diets of average Pakistanis. We can highlight the deficiencies that arise from inadequate consumption of protein, explain the role of protein in preventing deficiency-linked diseases, and debunking the myths and misconceptions around the consumption of poultry. More crucially, this also means leading the public conversations on Protein Day and other relevant opportunities to raise awareness on protein consumption through accessible and affordable food sources. 
For Pakistan to propel its development forward, it needs not just quality education and healthcare, but adequate nutrition for the 6.7 million children born each year and the 60% of its population falling in the working age. Pakistan can leverage this demographic dividend to help its economy bounce back from the crisis. However, to achieve this goal, a healthy and productive population is paramount, and protein sufficiency is essential for helping Pakistan reach nutrition security. An adequate protein intake is thus the foundation of nutrition security for a developing nation to improve health outcomes, reduce the burden of malnutrition, and boost economic productivity. 
Adequate protein intake is essential for optimal physical and cognitive development, leading to a more productive workforce. Individuals with protein deficiency are more likely to experience health issues that can impact their productivity and work performance. As a result, nutritionists working with schools, offices, hospitals and at other fronts can help ensure protein sufficiency and help reduce the risk of many health problems, such as stunting, wasting, and micronutrient deficiencies, leading to better health outcomes. A healthier population can lead to fewer healthcare costs, increased life expectancy, and better quality of life, which are all essential factors in the economic development of a nation. It all starts with nutritionists of the country, so I urge my fellow professionals to help Pakistan see a protein revolution powered by our expertise, information, and knowledge. 

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