Wednesday 19 July 2017

Cloth nappies (napkins) versus disposable diapers

About one decade or more ago , the most common sight in homes with babies and toddlers was white cloth nappies hung out to dry in the sun after washing. The same cannot be said today. In fact what now seems to be common is used, disposable baby diapers littered in areas they constitute eye sores. In the Nigerian market today are various brands and qualities of disposable diapers which often leave new parents at loss of which to choose. Several factors such as cost, availability and a baby's sensitivity to a particular product help parents make the final decision on which brand to settle for. 
This article focuses not on disposable diapers alone but on disposable diapers and reusable ones commonly called 'Cloth nappies' or 'Napkins'. 

The current economic situation in the country has made the cost of every item in the market to almost triple, cost of diapers inclusive. This makes many mothers who hitherto never looked the way of cloth nappies to reconsider their stance. This article that addresses disposable diapers versus cloth nappies in the Nigerian context is therefore very timely and hopefully will help some mothers make informed decisions on which to settle for.

Cloth nappies or what is popularly called "napkin" is a reusable form of diaper which like all diapers when used right can prevent the leakage of urine and or feces unto cloths. Unlike disposable diapers, cloth nappies are meant to be washed and reused. They are usually made of 100% cotton or whatever combination of cotton and other materials  that produces absorbent materials. They come in different forms, shapes and sizes with the most common form being the square-shaped, white cotton materials which are folded and tied onto a baby's bum backed up by what is commonly referred to as 'napkin pant'. There are also other fancy reusable diapers which come in the shape of disposable diapers. They are usually relatively more expensive than the square-shaped ones and also easier to use. 

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Square-shaped cloth nappies
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Disposable diaper-shaped cloth nappies. 

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Cloth diapers hung out to dry under the sun
Pros of  cloth nappies.
1. They are relatively cheap compared to disposable diapers. The cost of a large packet/carton of many disposable diaper brands can comfortably buy several packs of cloth nappies in Nigeria and unlike disposable diapers you just need to buy a dozen or more for a baby and you are done. All you then need to do is wash, dry and reuse. Considering the fact that you can use the same nappies for baby after baby makes cloth nappies one of the cheapest and most affordable baby care products in the market.

2. They are environmentally friendly. Considering the Nigerian environment and our very poor refuse disposal system, cloth nappies are the best option. All you need to do is rinse off the urine or poo as the case may be, pour the soiled water into your toilet (which it is assumed every home has at least one) and then proceed to wash the nappies with detergent or soap. Waste disposal is so convenient with cloth nappies.

3. They are reusable. Just like pointed out in 1 above, Mums can use same set of nappies for child after child, replacing only when there is a torn one or when there is need to increase the number available.

4. Cloth nappies are usually made of cotton and therefore highly hypoallergenic; that is they do not contain materials your baby could be allergic to as compared to disposable diapers which usually contain more synthetic materials than one can imagine and therefore increases the possibility of eliciting allergic reactions from babies' skins.

Cons of cloth nappies

(1) Using cloth nappies mean you get to handle a lot of baby poo which I believe few mums love (mums love everything about their babies but they often pass poos that question the "everything" part of the statement). But then you also get to handle poo when using wipes to clean their bums whether you use disposable diapers or not. Whatever type you use, you get to handle poo but to varying extents. Using Cloth nappies often mean you get your two hands deep into poo water. Gross right?

(2) If you are not careful, your baby will get rashes. This aspect is easily handled by applying a generous coat of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on your baby's bum before wearing the nappies. This ensures that urine and feces do not get to cling on your baby's skin as the jelly provides a barrier between the two and therefore ensures your baby has a smooth, rash-free bum. This step is also needed for disposable diapers except for the few brands that come with inbuilt cream.

(3) Washing and drying cloth nappies can be such a chore especially during rainy seasons. Many mothers using cloth nappies complain of using up their stock of nappies while waiting for washed ones to dry during rainy seasons when sunshine is a luxury. This definitely does not apply for mums who have washing and drying machines as well as electricity supply when needed.

(4) Considering that most cloth nappies in Nigeria are white, you need to be a clean mum to be able to use them well. Discolored and dirty nappies are an eyesore to many.

Disposable diapers on the other hand have their own fair share of pros and cons. Apart from the huge convenience of using disposable diapers, many Nigerian mums see their usage as a status symbol and many mums who should rather have used the money for diapers to get something more essential for their babies are often shamed into buying disposable diapers. 

The commonly seen brands of disposable diapers in Nigeria include Pampers, Huggies, and Molfix. 

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Disposable diapers
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Stacks of disposable diapers

Pros of disposable diapers

(1) Convenience. This comes tops among the advantages. Disposable diapers are so convenient to use. It barely takes a minute to change from a soiled diaper to a fresh one as compared to most cloth nappies where you get to spread the nappy liner or pant, fold and spread the nappy itself and then get to tie it round your baby's bum. Disposable diaper makers have upped the ante by making diaper pants for that stage of life when babies get wriggly and therefore challenging to stay still for a diaper change. You just need to pull up the pants, check in between their legs and you are done.

(2) Minimal handling of baby's waste. With disposable diapers you get to handle or touch very little urine or poo. They make handling babies' waste very easy.

(3) Status symbol. This is hardly an advantage but considering the Nigerian culture and society, a mum seen carrying a baby on diapers, more so foreign made ones is viewed either as enlightened, wealthy or someone with good taste. 

(1) Cost. Disposable diapers are expensive to use, more so considering that each used one is discarded. When you get to calculate the amount of money a baby uses for diapers from birth to toilet-training, one can only scream at the cost.

(2) Waste disposal. We have a horrible waste disposal system here. Many owners of farmlands often complain of finding heaps of used diapers in their farmlands and these are not easily biodegradable. Diapers are said to rank second after waterproof bags in littering the Nigerian environment. Many mums have complained of not knowing how to dispose of used diapers from their home. 'Oyibo' that introduced diapers to Nigeria have an almost perfect waste disposal system where wastes are sorted into different containers based on their biodegradability. When we copy things, we are supposed to copy the entire package and not just a section especially when it leaves us worse off than when we started.

(3)Materials used. Disposable diapers are made with diverse synthetic materials which often raise safety concerns. Some of the materials are even rumored to be toxic and/or raise one's chances of getting certain types of cancers.

Basically whichever between cloth nappies and disposable diapers you decide to settle for should be based on informed choices and  which is affordable for you

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Iodine deficiency; what we need to know

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Source: NAFDAC

Iodine is a micronutrient of public health importance. It is an essential component of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland which are essential for mammalian life and thus, Iodine is essential for a healthy, human life. Iodine deficiency leads to a range of disorders known as IDDs (Iodine deficiency disorders) which can affect persons of all ages, including those still in the womb.  It can lead to thyroid enlargement (known as a goiter), impair fetal brain development and can impose on a newborn infant a lifetime intellectual deficit.

Iodine is distributed in the earth’s environment in form of Iodide found mostly in seas and oceans. Iodide undergoes oxidation to form volatile, elemental Iodine which evaporates into the atmosphere and returns to the soil by rain in a process known as “Iodine cycle”. 
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Iodine cycle. Source Fred Zucker, 2015
Human dietary sources of iodine  include seafoods, plants grown where soil contains iodine and the meat of animals whose forage grow in such soils. Breastfeeding babies get their supply of iodine from their mothers’ breasts as the mammary gland concentrates iodine and secretes it into breast milk to provide for the nursing infant.

Iodine deficiency according to the World Health Organization (WHO),  is “  is the world’s most prevalent, yet easily preventable, cause of brain damage”. It can affect a child’s mental health and/or survival; reduce a child’s intellectual capacity and can cause stillbirths in pregnant women. Serious Iodine deficiency in pregnancy can lead to congenital abnormalities such as cretinism; an irreversible form of mental retardation in the child. 
Kul Gautam, a Deputy Executive Director in UNICEF, in 2007 said   IDD is the single greatest cause of preventable mental retardation. Severe deficiencies cause cretinism, stillbirth and miscarriage. But even mild deficiency can significantly affect the learning ability of populations. Scientific evidence shows alarming effects of IDD. Even a moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers their intelligence by 10 to 15 IQ points, with incalculable damage to social and economic development of nations and communities….. The mark of a civilized society is how well it takes care of its most vulnerable and deprived communities. If we continue to fail to reach these newborns, we will be consigning them to an inter-generational cycle of poverty and injustice.

The various impacts of Iodine deficiency led to  several acts and regulations by NAFDAC (National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control), and SON (Standard Organization of Nigeria) on salt iodization in Nigeria.

 NAFDAC ACT 1993 (AS AMENDED) Food Grade (Table or Cooking) Salt Regulations 2005
 Stipulates that
·         Any salt used as an ingredient of food for direct use by consumers, food manufactures or as a carrier of food additive shall meet the standard requirement for food grade salt as set out in these regulations among others.
  • ·         Be fortified with iodine using sodium or potassium iodide or iodate at a residue level as specified by the Agency.
  • ·         the name “salt” shall have a prefix of “food grade” or “table”;
  • ·         Salt Iodization shall carry the logo of a green map of Nigeria with black edge and three human figures in white.

The SON standard defines properly iodized salt as  "containing above 50 ppm (parts per million) iodine at port of entry, above 30 ppm iodine at distributor and retail levels  and above  15 ppm iodine at household level" The SON standard also specifies the over-all quality parameters for food grade salt.

While we have little or no control over the iodine content of the seafood and other items we consume, we need to ensure we use only iodized salt in our cooking. It is advisable to buy edible iodized salt in smaller packages as those that come in very big bags are prone to exposure and therefore increases the chances that the iodine has been leached.

 Fred Zucker  (2015) BioLargo's Clean Water Technology Positioned To Save Maritime Operators Billions sourced on  7/10/2017 from

Pearce EN, Leung AM, Blount BC, et al. (2007). Breast milk iodine and perchlorate concentrations in lactating Boston-area women. Journal of  Cliinical and Endocrinoogical Metabolism 92: 1673–77

Essential things to consider before buying a blender in Nigeria

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A blender brand with a plastic pitcher and a separate mill for nuts, seeds and other dry stuff
Blenders can rightly be described as very essential appliances in the kitchen. They can make food preparation easy and convenient. With the various brands and types of blenders in the Nigerian market, making a good choice can be challenging.

 I remember the first time I shopped for a blender, I went to different shops and supermarkets in the city where I resided. One thing that struck me was the large difference in cost of different blenders. Before, and even after then I believed all blenders were basically the same with the only difference being in their brand names and qualities. I likened them to appliances like refrigerators which served the same purpose though some brands are reputed to be better than others. I ended up buying one of the most affordable blenders I found in an electrical/electronics shops then. Now that I know better I would like to share my knowledge in case there is a Nigerian mum out there in need of a blender and not sure which to settle for. So here are essential things to consider before settling for a particular blender.

  Price. The cost of any item you intend buying usually comes tops among other considerations. You are not supposed to let yourself get broke because you need one appliance or the other so aim at a blender you can afford. There are high-end blenders which not everyone can afford and though they have their own advantages, lesser known or more affordable brands of the same quality could also serve same purpose. So before you decide on a particular blender type, you need to determine how much you can afford to spend on this very essential kitchen appliance. 

 Wattage:  This describes the electrical current the blender draws which is directly proportional to the power of the blender’s motor.  I consider the wattage the most important factor to consider when choosing a blender . The wattage of a blender tells you what it is capable of doing. The higher the wattage, the higher the blender’s ability to grind/blend tougher substances. So if all you need your blender for is blending tomatoes and pepper for stews, fruits for smoothies and maybe some other soft food items then most of the moderate wattage blenders  of about 300-350 watts will do. But if you want to use your blender to process cereals and grains for your pap, or even your beans for Akara or Moi-Moi and other somewhat hard grains, then you need those blenders with wattage nearer to or above 1000 watts. These have the power to crush hard grains. Higher wattage blenders actually cost more and are very noisy when in use. The wattage of blenders are usually displayed prominently on their packs.

 Accessories: Different blenders come with different accessories and kinds of blades and jars. Some come with a single jar meant for blending/mashing, others come with additional jugs and blades which they often classify as miller and/or grater. The millers/graters usually have blades that crush dry ingredients while the big pitchers are meant for ingredients which usually require water or other fluids to facilitate the blades' function.  So when you are blending stuff like your Egusi you use either the miller or grater blade and jars while your tomatoes and other watery stuffs will do well with the main pitcher.

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Another blender brand with two extra cups described as mill and grater to serve different purposes.

 Material the jar/pitcher is made of: The most commonly seen blender jar materials in Nigerian markets are glass and plastic. Stainless steel jars also exist but are less common. Blenders with plastic jars are usually cheaper than others but  are prone to scratching, staining and odour retention (you know that smell of food  items like beans can linger on a substance even after washing). Plastics also often contain Bisphenol A (BPA); a chemical said to have negative impacts on health, unless you are buying one labeled BPA-free. Glass jars are expensive, heavy and may break but they do not stain and aren’t prone to scratching and odour retention like plastics.Stainless jars are usually better that glass and plastic jars but cost much more and also have the disadvantage of one not being able to monitor the jar contents unlike plastic and glass jars. Basically, you should choose the material you prefer cos each one has its pros and cons.  

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A Stainless blender pitcher; while it looks classy, you cannot monitor the contents as compared to plastic and glass

 Shop you are buying from. If you are resident in Nigeria, you should already know that fake and substandard products abound in the market. To be on the safe side, appliances like blenders should be bought from reputable shops and should also carry a warranty. Many buyers have bought electrical appliances from the open market and found out that they either aren’t working well or not working at all. Returning it involves avoidable stress which can be avoided upfront by buying from reputable shops with considerate return policies and warranties. 

So if your kitchen needs a blender (as I suppose every one does), these factors discussed in this piece should provide substantial guide towards making the right choice.