Breaking Food Neophobia: Diversifying Diets for Healthier Future.

In a world where culinary comfort zones are often hard to escape, the prospect of trying new recipes can be intimidating. Whether it's the fear of unknown tastes or uncertainty about nutritional value, food neophobia; the reluctance to incorporate new foods into one's diet poses a significant challenge to promoting healthier eating habits. (Dovey et al., 2008)

However, initiatives like HealthyDiets4Africa (HD4A), an EU-funded project, are pioneering innovative approaches to combat this reluctance and diversify diets through co-creation.

Routine diverseness in what we consume daily is an immersing journey that improves nutrition status of individual as well as general food safety. Research shows that increasing dietary diversity in the populations not only reduces exposure to foodborne toxins, but may allow for intake of dietary constituents that counteract the adverse effects of these toxins. Today we explore a few correlations between dietary diversity and food safety:

Overcoming Neophobia with HealthyDiets4Africa

Addressing neophobia requires more than just introducing new foods; it demands a collaborative effort involving communities, policymakers, and nutrition experts. By employing co-creation, a process where stakeholders collaborate in the design and implementation of interventions, the project ensures that new recipes are not only nutritious but also culturally relevant and appealing.

Young Innovators Exhibit their innovation from underutilized foods, during The Launch of HealthyDiets4Africa Living Lab at KALRO Kabete.

Within the project, we are already working with young innovators who are making products that are eye-catching such as pastries with intriguing flavors and rich nutrition profiles. That is not the end, more research is being pioneered to inform and ramp up more value additions and shift in perception.

The Power of Diversification in Children's Diets

Neglected and underutilized foods (NUFs) often hold untapped potential in addressing nutritional deficiencies, but incorporating them into children's diets requires careful consideration as establishing healthy eating habits early in life is crucial for long-term health.

Introducing NUFs in fun and engaging ways, such as incorporating them into familiar dishes or creating new cooking methodologies tailored to children's tastes makes the experience enjoyable and interactive. This will turn these foods from unfamiliar to desirable, paving the way for healthier diets among the younger generation.

I can’t agree more that food consumption is socially and culturally shared with congeners, and is based on previous experiences and previously acquired habits in the food domain. Successful and continually positive experiences with such food will reduce children’s reluctance to eat it. Studies have shown that a foodstuff must be presented eight times to a child in order for it to be accepted.

Understanding the Food Situation in Kenya

In Kenya, like many other countries, dietary patterns are shifting towards more processed and energy-dense foods, contributing to a rise in diet-related health burdens such as obesity, micronutrient deficiency and undernutrition. Despite being rich in bioavailability, the consumption of traditional and nutritious foods is declining, highlighting the urgent need for intervention.

To add on diversity, recognizing food safety is paramount in ensuring the consumers get the necessary health benefits and has a share in economic altitude. Consumers have been remarkably missing in food safety discussions in the country despite bearing the biggest bulk of the implications. Major food safety exposés in media oftentimes evoke public commotio but this typically quickly dies off. This pattern can be described as amnesia, where most Kenyan consumers might be too quick to forget such pertinent issues and move on.

Projection from Food Safety in Kenya; A consumer Perspective Report unveils the absence of a strong regulatory body to enforce measures, most of the identified food safety issues are yet to be addressed despite being brought to the attention of the government.

One of the major concerns we grappling with has been the use of chemical pesticides in food production. There have been reports that have elicited significant public fuss regarding the levels of pesticide residues in fresh produce consumed locally.

Entry point of these residues is not fixed at farm level. Food handling at the market during either transportation, storage or actual transactions present potential entry points for contamination especially when they are not properly managed. Whereas food markets play a major role in food safety over 60% consumers are skeptical about that guaranteed.

Notably, linking the status to Global scale, one in ten people fall ill after consuming contaminated food and 420,000 die from food related illnesses every year. Staggering data shows cchildren under five years carry of the foodborne disease burden, accounting for 125,000 deaths every year. No one needs to meet such consequence. We must take intentional actions to shift this matrix.

Building Food Safety Capacity Across the Food System

Addressing food safety concerns requires a multi-faceted approach that involves various stakeholders, including farmers, processors, retailers, and consumers. Capacity building initiatives play a vital role in enhancing knowledge and skills related to food safety practices, from proper handling and storage to pesticide management and residue testing.

FSPN Africa participating in Food Safety discussions in Wote, Makueni County, during Stakeholder and Kick Off Workshop HealthyDiets4Africa.

The legal and regulatory framework in Kenya must play their crucial role in ensuring food safety and quality. However, challenges persist, particularly in regulating the use of fertilizers and pesticides in vegetable production.

Concerns over contamination and health risks underscore the importance of stringent monitoring and enforcement measures to protect consumers. By empowering actors across the food system with the necessary tools and training, HealthyDiets4Africa aims to promote a culture of food safety and quality assurance. This not only safeguards public health but also fosters trust and confidence in local food systems, supporting sustainable development goals.

Overcoming neophobia and promoting dietary diversification are complex challenges that require collective action and innovative solutions. The transformative power of reshaping food environments and nurturing healthier habits, particularly among children still remains a button in our hands to pave the way for a brighter and healthier future for generations to come.

By leveraging neglected and underutilized foods, addressing regulatory gaps, and investing in food safety capacity building, we can pave


  1. Wu F, Mitchell NJ, Male D, Kensler TW. Reduced foodborne toxin exposure is a benefit of improving dietary diversity. Toxicol Sci. 2014 Oct.
  2. Food safety in Kenya; A consumer perspective