Nutritional composition and acceptance of a complimentary food made with provitamin A-biofortified maize.
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Introduction: Micronutrient malnutrition has been identified as a serious health problem globally and is on the rise in South Africa. This is evident from the escalating burden of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in South Africa. Rural infants are the most affected, as their diets often lack micronutrients. Food fortification, vitamin A supplementation and dietary diversity are the strategies that have been employed in South Africa to alleviate VAD. However, these strategies have not been effective, for various reasons. Biofortification is the production of micronutrient dense staple crops to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies. This strategy could complement existing strategies in the alleviation of VAD in South Africa and in other countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where VAD is prevalent. Aim: The aim of this study was to investigate the nutritional composition and acceptance of a complementary food (soft porridge) made with provitamin A-biofortified maize by female infant caregivers from the rural areas of Umgungundlovu District of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Objectives: (i) To evaluate the nutritional composition of soft porridge made with provitamin A-biofortified maize compared to non-biofortified white maize porridge; (ii) To assess the sensory acceptability of soft porridge made with the biofortified maize by black African female infant caregivers of varying age; and (iii) To determine the perceptions of the black African infant caregivers about the biofortified maize relative to the non-biofortified white maize. Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted. Grains of two provitamin A-biofortified maize varieties and one white variety (control) were used. Grain and soft porridge of each variety of maize were analysed for their nutritional composition. The sensory acceptability of the porridges were evaluated by black African female infant caregivers, using a five-point facial hedonic scale. Focus group discussions were conducted, using some of the study subjects, to determine their perceptions about the provitamin A-biofortified maize. Results: The results showed that the grains of the provitamin A-biofortified maize varieties and their soft porridges were more nutritious than the control white variety in terms of energy, fibre, fat, protein, iron, zinc and phosphorus content. The results of the sensory evaluation indicated that there was no significant difference in the sensory acceptability of the biofortified soft porridges and the white maize soft porridge, irrespective of the age of the sensory evaluation panellists. The female caregivers perceived the biofortified maize as nutritious and health-beneficial and thought that infants would like its unique yellow colour and taste. However, the black African female caregivers perceived the provitamin A-biofortified maize as an animal feed or food for the poor. Nevertheless, the female caregivers expressed a willingness to give their infants porridge made with provitamin A-biofortified maize if it was cheap, readily available and health-beneficial. Conclusion: This study suggests that provitamin A-biofortified maize has the potential to be used as a complementary food item. Biofortification of maize with provitamin A could be used as a possible complementary strategy to assist in the alleviation of VAD in SSA. Furthermore, the relatively higher energy, fibre, fat, protein, iron, zinc and phosphorus content of the biofortified maize could contribute to the alleviation of protein-energy malnutrition and mineral deficiencies, respectively, which are prevalent in children of SSA. Although the findings of this study, like other previous studies, indicate that there are some negative perceptions about the provitamin A-biofortified maize, this study shows that provitamin A-biofortified maize soft porridge is as acceptable as white maize soft porridge to female infant caregivers from the rural areas of Umgungundlovu District of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The female caregivers are thus likely to accept the biofortified maize for use as an infant complementary food in the form of soft porridge. Further research is recommended to expand the study area and consumer sample size in order to increase the confidence of inferring these results for large rural populations.