Severe Malnutrition: Ready-to-use therapeutic food may be an answer

Soy protein may be as good as milk - a key ingredient of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), earlier developed by icddr,b nutrition scientists for children experiencing severe acute malnutrition (SAM), suggests a new icddr,b clinical trial.

RUTF - a therapy, not only food, can be an answer for malnutrition. Photo: GMB Akash / icddr,b

Rather than plain ‘food,’ icddr,b’s RUTF is a nutritional therapy made with locally available food ingredients - rice, lentil, and chickpeas, coupled with milk powder, which has already proven to be well-accepted by children with SAM.

“Milk powder, source of high-quality protein, is the single most expensive raw ingredient in RUTF,” notes Dr Tahmeed Ahmed, senior director of icddr,b’s nutrition and clinical services and the scientist pioneering the use of RUTF with locally ingredients.

Whole or skimmed milk powder amounts to almost half of the raw ingredient cost or 30-35 percent of the total cost of the RUTF.

“We found that this alternative RUTF recipe using relatively low-cost soy protein isolate (S-RUTF) was similarly acceptable and effective in treating children with SAM,” says Dr Tahmeed, senior author of the new study published in European Journal of Nutrition.

Children taking S-RUTF gained weight showing similar changes in body composition. Photo: GMB Akash / icddr,b

The RUTF therapy needs to be economically viable because around 20 million children suffer from SAM across the world, particularly in Asian and African countries where affordability is an issue.

“We measured whether the children, aged 6-59 months, find S-RUTF taste acceptable and whether it was contributing to their weight gain,” says Dr Iqbal Hossain, icddr,b senior scientist and principal author of the paper.

Not deterred by the taste, the children taking S-RUTF gained weight showing similar changes in body composition (middle-upper arm circumference, weight-height Z-score, total body water and fat) to that of the children who took milk-based RUTF (M-RUTF), and without any side effects.

“The statistical validity of this comparison was insignificant which indicates that S-RUTF was as good as M-RUTF,” adds Dr Hossain.

The S-RUTF recipe also excludes peanuts - normally used in M-RUTF - in order to avoid peanut allergy and make the product widely acceptable. icddr,b scientists anticipate that this comparatively low-cost, peanut free, S-RUTF will contribute to managing a greater number of SAM children in the community.

Muhamamd Zahir Hassan Nabil