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Sweet potato food key to healthier infants

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-03-27 09:36

The humble sweet potato could hold the key to better health for infants in the developing world, according to research carried out in New Zealand.

Massey University doctoral student Francis Kweku Amagloh developed a complementary infant food using sweet potato as the base ingredient that could help minimize vitamin A deficiency in children in poor nations.

Amagloh said in a statement from the university that he hoped the food would address some of the micronutrient deficiencies in the vulnerable period when infants change to solid food, which usually began at around six months.

After working for the World Health Organization, Amagloh found infants in his home nation of Ghana were mostly given cereal-based complementary food, prepared from white maize, which was devoid of vitamin A precursors.

Associate Professor Jane Coad of Massey's College of Health said children in developing nations often faltered in growth and got anemia and vitamin A deficiency because the household-level weaning foods failed to provide adequate micronutrients.

"In Ghana, like a lot of developing nations, the traditional cereal-based porridge is low in micronutrients and high in phytate, which binds to the iron and stops it from being absorbed," Coad said in the statement.

Amagloh developed a food product that could be easily stored and rehydrated with water, while having low phytate and being high in vitamin A precursors. The powder could also be manufactured easily in developing nations with locally grown sweet potatoes.

Amagloh had since returned to Ghana and was seeking funding to carry out more research and infant feeding trials.

"Although the sweet potato-based weaning food would positively contribute in reducing vitamin A deficiency among children, we cannot be certain if it will help reduce iron deficiency," Amagloh said.

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