Washington, D.C. Scientists have shown for the first time that ‘orange’ maize is a good source of vitamin A. This means that orange maize, a variety of maize bred to improve nutrition, could provide vitamin A through the diet to millions of poor people at risk of vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin A deficiency blinds up to 500,000 children annually and increases the risk of disease and death, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many people in this region are too poor to afford expensive vitamin A-rich foods such as orange fruits, dark leafy vegetables, or meat. However, they eat large amounts of white maize—up to a pound—daily. In this context, orange maize could provide a substantial portion of their vitamin A needs.
“Traditionally, white maize porridge is a popular food among children and adults,” says Dr. Wendy White, of Iowa State University, who headed the study. “It’s even, usually, the first solid food given to infants. We prepared the orange maize porridge in our study using traditional African methods in order to best approximate a real world situation.”
The maize was bred using conventional means (non-GMO) to have higher levels of beta-carotene, which gives it its orange color. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. The study found that beta-carotene from orange maize was converted at a rate that was almost twice as high as previously assumed for maize, and even higher than from vegetables.
“We are encouraged that this higher conversion ratio has been scientifically established,” says Dr. Erick Boy, Nutrition Head of HarvestPlus, which supported the development of the maize. “In 2012, we plan to release orange maize in Zambia, in areas where almost half of children under five remain at risk of vitamin A deficiency. This new finding means that we should be able to provide far more dietary vitamin A through orange maize than previously thought possible. We’re looking at up to 30% of the daily requirement for children from two to six years old and 40% of the daily requirement for women of childbearing age.”
Maize is the third most important cereal crop in the world.
Article Reference: Vitamin A equivalence of the β-carotene in β-carotene–biofortified maize porridge consumed by women. Shanshan Li, Angela Nugroho, Torbert Rocheford and Wendy S White. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (September 1, 2010). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.29802
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Background vitamin A & maize fact sheet
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