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1.1       Background to the Study

Vegetables are one of the most natural foods that contain different micronutrients and thousands of phytochemicals known for their health benefits. There is a wide variety of indigenous vegetables and fruits found in Africa, which are chief sources of micronutrients, antioxidants, and proteins (Odhav et al., 2007). Some of the indigenous vegetables and fruits are mainly used by inhabitants for medicinal purposes (Eifediyi et al., 2008). Leafy vegetables and herbs are relatively inexpensive.They are easy to prepare as rich sources of precursors of several nutrients, especially β-carotene.

Many indigenous plants (trees,shrubs, herbs, twigs and leafy vegetables) are consumed as food,spices or used for medicinal purposes in Nigeria (Nwaogu et al.,2007).Vegetables, especially tomatoes and leafy vegetables, fruits, dried beans and nuts serve as sources of iron (non-heme). In addition to the iron contained in vegetables, the high levels of vitamin C in many vegetables will increase the efficiency of dietary iron absorption(McKinley Health Center, 2010). Consumption of green leafy vegetables can reduce many micronutrient deficiency diseases. Green leafy vegetables are rich sources of carotenoids as well as iron, calcium, ascorbate, riboflavin, folate and appreciable amounts of other minerals.

Micronutrients are nutrients needed in minute specific quantities in the body. Most of them are not produced in the body. They are derived from food when consumed. Some of these micronutrients are vitamins A, B12, iron, folate, iodine and zinc. Prolonged inadequate intake of foods rich in these micronutrients precipitates their deficiencies. One-third of the world’s population suffers from micronutrient deficiencies, due to inadequate dietary intake (Fielder and Macdonald, 2009). Micronutrient malnutrition is widespread in the industrialized nations and even more so in the developing regions of the world. This is due to endemic nature of malaria between 10 to 20% of the population presents less than 10 g/dl of haemoglobin (Diallo et al., 2008).

According to World Health Organization (2001), anaemia is defined as a hemoglobin concentration lower than the established cutoff. This cutoff figure ranges from 110 g/L for pregnant women and for children 6 months–60 months of age, to 130 g/L for men. Sex, age, and pregnancy status, other factors influence the cutoff values for hemoglobin concentration while others include altitude, race, and whether or not the individual smokes (WHO, 2001). Anaemia can be diagnosed by analyzing the hemoglobin concentration in blood or by measuring the proportion of red blood cells in whole blood (hematocrit). Nutritional anaemia is caused when there is an inadequate body store of a specific nutrient needed for hemoglobin synthesis. The most common nutrient deficiency is iron. Iron plays an important   role in the production of haemoglobin.

Iron deficiency is a condition in which the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood is reduced, indicating a sign of an underlying disease (Ochei and Kolhatkar, 2008). It occurs because of lack of the iron in the body. Iron deficiency is ranked at the top of three global “hidden hungers” (iron, iodine and vitamins A) with about one fifth of the world’s population suffering from iron deficiency anaemia (WHO, 2008a). Iron deficiency in its most severe form results in anaemia–Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA). The prevalence of anaemia has often been used as proxy of IDA (United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),2004).

Forty percent of the world’s population (>2 billion individuals) suffer from anaemia (WHO, 1996), many are due to iron deficiency (UNICEF, 2004). Iron deficiency is estimated to be the most common cause of anaemia worldwide and is particularly prevalent in developing nations in Africa and Asia (Stoltfzfus et al, 2004). A review of national representative survey from 1993 to 2005 showed that 30% of non-pregnant women of childbearing age, 42% of pregnant women, and 47% of preschool children worldwide had anaemia (Kraemer andZimmermann, 2011). In developing countries, the prevalence of anaemia is 20% in children of school age (Echendu and Onimawo, 2003).

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