Potential of pumpkin to combat vitamin A deficiency during complementary feeding in low and middle income countries: variety, provitamin A carotenoid content and retention, and dietary reference intakes.
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The risk of child vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in low and middle income countries (LMICs) begins during the age range of complementary feeding (6–24months), when children are fed complementary foods (CFs) deficient in vitamin A. However, pumpkin, a source of provitamin A carotenoids (PVACs) is widely cultivated in LMICs, but underutilized as a complementary food. Moreover, when consumed by humans, PVACs are bioconverted to retinol, the active form of vitamin A used by the body. This study evaluated the potential of pumpkin toward combating VAD by reviewing varieties of pumpkin cultivated in LMICs and their provitamin A carotenoid (PVAC) content; retention of PVACs in pumpkin during processing it as a CF; and the extent to which a CF prepared from pumpkin may meet the dietary reference intakes (DRIs) for vitamin A for children aged 6–24months old. Pumpkin may combat VAD because the varieties cultivated have high b-carotene content, it is a provitamin A biofortifiable food crop, and 100% retention of PVACs was observed when processed using home cooking methods. Feeding less than 50 g of cooked pumpkin per day meets 100% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) and adequate intake (AI) of vitamin A for children 6 to 24months old. Consumption of pumpkin may be used to complement vitamin A supplementation, fortification, and diversification of CFs with animal source foods. For better yield of pumpkin in LMICs, nutrition sensitive agricultural programmes such as biofortification and agronomic management of pumpkin need to be promoted and supported.