Malnutrition research into the effect of whey protein in ready-to-use supplementary foods
Protein is recognised as the most important nutrient in the treatment of moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), which primarily affects children in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Over several years, Arla Foods Ingredients has supplied ingredients for use in research to investigate the effect of whey protein and other whey components in ready-to-use supplementary foods (RUSF).
Early in 2019, scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine presented the initial findings from a clinical study that investigated the effect of optimising the quality of the proteins in RUSF. Some 1800 malnourished children from rural Malawi took part.
Previous studies have already established that child recovery from MAM is improved when RUSF contains whey protein and permeate. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the addition of skimmed milk powder – with a higher content of digestible amino acids – would lead to a further improvement in recovery rate and weight gain.
In Malawi, two RUSF solutions containing milk proteins were tested. One contained skim milk powder, while the other contained whey protein concentrate (DIAAS scores of 82 and 96, respectively). Both versions showed a similar clinical outcome of 87 to 88 percent recovery over 12 weeks. This suggests that the food matrix of the RUSF is also important for the clinical outcome of MAM-affected children aged six to 59 months. And it represents a significant improvement on previous studies based in sub-Saharan Africa using RUSF solutions that contained vegetable proteins, and which showed between 70 to 80 percent recovery*.
Looking ahead, influence on the gut microbiota and the contribution of essential amino acids needs to be further explored so that RUSF can be optimised.
*It should be noted that the latest study revealed that protein quality scores were not directly associated with clinical outcomes of MAM.