How to prevent protein deficiency?

Picture of a young child.

Lack of protein is basically responsible for the early deaths of untold millions of young children in  some areas of the world.

How to prevent such deaths by getting more protein foods into the diet of children in these areas has become a problem the solution of which requires the cooperation of parents and local authorities.

Malnutrition is a product of ignorance and poverty, and custom, superstition and taboos, which often limit the foods grown and used, are additional factors.

Many mothers who are illiterate do not know that generous supplies of high quality protein foods are needed by their young children.

Eggs that would give the children needed protein are often sold or traded instead of being fed to them.

Also, other foods that are high in protein are often not used for one reason or another.

The growth of a child generally slows down after it is weaned because its mother, usually through ignorance, fails to feed it protein rich foods.

It becomes a puny person with hair that is brown instead of black, skin that is paler than normal, skinny arms and legs and possibly an extensive degree of dwarfing.

At eighteen months it may not weigh any more than it did at nine months.

In some poor countries 70 percent of the children are affected by protein malnutrition.

This condition can produce mental and physical retardation that is irreversible.

Mild or moderate protein deficiency renders infants and young children particularly susceptible to respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

Disease accentuates the need for protein-rich foods, failure to supply which can cause death or the severe protein deficiency known as kwashiorkor, meaning “the disease the deposed baby gets when the next one is born."

Why protein is important? 

Picture of beans.

The very word “protein” means “first,” and that is the place it holds in our body’s need for nourishment.

It provides essential nitrogen and is constantly required for the growth and replacement of body tissues.

The body breaks down protein into constituents called amino acids and then reconstructs them into other proteins.

Our body can synthesize or make up all but eight of the more than twenty amino acids.

The eight that it cannot synthesize are called “essential” amino acids.

These must be supplied in the foods we eat.

If an essential amino acid is in short supply, it limits how effectively the body uses the rest of the protein in the food.

A good quality protein supplies all the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities and in proper ratio.

Egg protein is regarded by some persons as the best quality natural protein, with milk, meat and fish also rated high.

Among plants. those with the best-quality proteins are found in legumes such as beans, peas, ground peas (peanuts) and nuts.

While most plant products lack one or more of the essential amino acids, the deficiency can often be corrected by combining them with other vegetables that supply the lack.

For example, adding just a small amount of high-quality protein food to a diet of cassava or plantain will create an amino-acid balance enabling all the protein in the food to be used effectively.

To obtain this advantage, however, protein foods must be eaten together.

The balance is lost by eating maize one day and beans the next.

Eating a variety of foods together allows for the interaction of all essential nutrients.

Protein may actually be in a person’s diet, but the body will not be able to make proper use of it unless energy giving calories or essential vitamins and minerals are adequate.

On the other hand, adding much of one nutrient will only exaggerate the deficiency of the others.

Thus some malnourished Indonesians that were given high-protein skim milk but not an extra supply of vitamin A were adversely affected in their eyes.

A fully grown adult uses protein only for tissue maintenance and repair.

A child, however, needs it for growth.

This fact makes it possible for an adult to live on a supply of protein food that is totally inadequate for a child.

A child that is four years of age requires the same minimum amount of protein as an adult.

Because a child usually eats about half as much as an adult, he needs foods that have twice the concentration of protein as those eaten by an adult.

Too many mothers are unaware of this fact.

The normal flow of breast milk can fully meet the protein and calorie needs of an ’ infant until between the sixth and twelfth months of life.

After that, diet supplements are required.

This presents a problem in underdeveloped countries.

Cow’s milk is either not available or too expensive.

The same can be said of other protein rich foods.

Usually the child is fed on “pappy” cereals or starchy roots and fruits until he begins eating the normal family foods.

An expectant mother needs additional protein to meet the demands of pregnancy, otherwise she may handicap her offspring from birth.

Amazing as it may seem, good quality breast milk is often provided for prolonged periods by undernourished women, but at considerable cost to their own health.

Sources of cheap protein

Picture of soybeans.

Abundant quantities of cheap protein can be found in foods of vegetable origin, particularly oil-seed meals.

The food expert Nevin S. Scrimshaw observed:

“Most technically under developed areas could easily provide sufficient protein from either cotton seed or soya to correct their protein deficits.”

Meal can be obtained from ground peas, copra, sesame and sunflower seeds.

In Liberia investigations are under way on the advisability of building a plant to crush palm kernels and make palm-oil cakes.

The product would contain 80 percent protein.

Common varieties of beans and peas can partially correct protein deficiencies, particularly where cassava, yam, taro, sweet potatoes and plantain have replaced cereals as staple foods.

Grown on the same amount of ground, such legumes provide even more protein than do cereals.

An enormous potential supply of protein is in fish.

They can be processed into stable flour with or without a fish taste or odor.

For such to be produced cheaply, however, the whole fish, including viscera, scales and eyes, must be used.

For this reason the United States Food and Drug Administration pronounces fish meal or flour unfit for human consumption in that country.

But processors insist that they can convert whole fish into a clean and safe product.

At the present time the sanitary measures and precautions necessary in processing fish into meal for human consumption make it more costly than powdered skim milk and oil-seed meals.

While research continues to find ways of lowering the cost and increasing its acceptability, a village can obtain fish protein by maintaining a village fish pond.

Twenty-six fish ponds have been built in Liberia during the past few years.

Acceptance problem

School feeding program.

There has been a problem in getting people in some areas to accept a food they needed but were unfamiliar with.

A formulated cereal that was successfully sold in Guatemala was not accepted at all by the people in a nearby country.

In some places where free dried skim milk was distributed, people did not know what to do with it.

Instead of introducing new and unfamiliar foods, it appears that the people in some under developed lands can be aided best by helping them to use local foods that are available to them and with which they are familiar.

In Liberia the growing of ground peas or pigeon peas in gardens is encouraged as well as the raising of chickens, rabbits or pigeons.

They are admonished to use these protein-rich foods to feed their family instead of selling them.

There are people who are certain to object that it is not their custom to use certain foods that have a high protein content.

Fish and various animals, for example, are taboo to some people.

Even eggs are rejected in certain places because of a superstition that they cause a pregnant woman to give birth to a girl and turn growing boys into “Sissies.”

School instruction can help overcome these unwise views in the younger generation, but it is difficult to change them in adults.

Discontinuance of the old custom of prolonged breast feeding is having a bad effect upon young children where satisfactory substitutes for it are lacking.

Influenced by western ideas, some mothers mistakenly think that bottle feeding is socially superior to breast feeding.

Others think that store milk is more nutritious, but seldom can they purchase enough of it to supply their babies with the nutrition needed.

More often than not they feed their baby a highly diluted mixture of condensed milk and rice water or a corn flour gruel colored with milk that has been sweetened.

Such a diet causes malnutrition to set in.

If a mother were to continue breast feeding her child and also give it a food such as soft rice, it would be in less danger of protein and calorie malnutrition.

Improving local foods

Fish market.

The protein value of a maize gruel, such as "koko," which is used in Ghana, can be improved by adding some pea flour.

This is valuable when breast milk fails and there is no money for buying milk.

Homemade fish flour can also be added.

If at all possible some dried skim milk should be used, because it is rich in riboflavin, which helps the body to make full use of protein.

Perhaps it can be obtained free from a public health center.

Continued use of milk,eggs or fish flour is advisable because a child of two or three cannot easily eat sufficient corn and peas or beans to satisfy his protein requirements.

Where ettu (steamed mashed plantain) is the favorite weaning food, its nutritional value am be increased by adding some powdered milk or sweet potatoes and red beans.

Ground peas or dried fish flour can also be used.

This supplement should also be added where manioc or cassava is used as a weaning food.

Cereal protein, how. ever, is much superior to that of plantain or cassava and is always preferred in child feeding.

A nourishing baby food can be made of rice, ground peas (peanuts) and sesame seed.

First, soak the rice for two hours, drain it and then spread it on a farmer in the sun until partially dried.

Pound it in a mortar and then sift.

Parch ground peas and remove the skin.

Pound them in a mortar while still warm and then sift.

Clean sesame (benniseed) and parch.

Pound them and sift.

Mix five parts of both rice and sesame meal to three parts of ground-pea meal. One part of fish flour may be added.

Fish flour can be obtained by pounding dried fish thoroughly in a mortar.

To one cup of this mixture add four cups of cold water slowly until it is free from lumps.

Add one teaspoon of salt.

Cook slowly for thirty minutes.

If the baby is over eight months, add palm oil or pounded tender greens for vitamin A.

The protein content of this mixture, even without the fish, exceeds that of milk.

When there is a lack of time to prepare special baby food, what is in the family pot can be used.

A portion of cooked rice can be cooked for about fifteen minutes more with more water so as to make it softer.

Add two tablespoons of boned fish and some tender greens.

Cook for still another fifteen minutes, and then put it through a sieve.

This pap requires only thirty additional minutes to prepare after cooking for the family, and it can be done with only three pots.

You might think that young children cannot digest eggs, ground-pea flour, beans and peas, but, when these foods are properly prepared. they can.

Experiments have shown that egg protein can be easily fed to persons of all ages.

In Dakar, West Africa, ground-pea flour was easily digested by healthy infants from five to twelve months old when it was given to them in amounts that did not exceed 50 to 80 grams daily, but they had difficulty with larger amounts.

In Nigeria good results were observed when children of nine months to one year were given 30 grams daily of groundnut flour that contained 15 percent casein plus vitamins and mineral salts.

Bean puree can be made by first soaking the beans overnight.

Change the water and boil them with salt until they are soft.

Mash the beans and strain out the skins.

Continue boiling until the surplus water is gone and a firm puree remains.

Puree, palm oil, salt and fish can be wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to provide .a protein-rich baby food.

The problem of protein malnutrition is growing with the steady population increase in underdeveloped areas of the world.

The nutritional knowledge of what is needed for these peoples is available, and it can be supplied through government, national and international agencies.

Parents and village leaders would be wise to give heed to it.

By their applying this knowledge the deaths of millions of children from malnutrition can be avoided

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