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Hunger and Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTFs)

Several decades ago, when aid agencies (NGOs, non-governmental organizations) would bring food to malnourished persons, they used cooked grain and powdered milk. The grains provide carbs and some protein. The powdered milk adds more protein. But dietary fat was lacking. Recovery from malnutrition was slow, especially in children.

Subsequently, aid agencies began to use F-75 and F-100, which is basically powdered milk with added sugar, vegetable oil, and vitamins/minerals. F-75 has 75 kcal/100 ml and F-100 has 100 kcal/ml. This approach was more effective. Malnourished children on F-100 gained weight faster, indicating faster recovery. F-100 is still in widespread use. F-100 is mixed with drinking water to produce a fortified-milk drink that supplements the diet of malnourished persons, particularly children. F-100 is a therapeutic food; it is a food that is used like medicine, to help persons afflicted by malnutrition recover more quickly.

Plumpy’Nut is a similar therapeutic food. But whereas F-100 needs to be mixed with clean safe drinking water, Plumpy’Nut is a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). This product is a solid food that does not require mixing with water. It is eaten right out of the package.

Plumpy’Nut “consists of a peanut-based paste, with sugar, vegetable fat and skimmed milk powder, enriched with vitamins and minerals….” (Nutriset). The combination of peanut and milk powder provides a high protein food with all essential amino acids. The product offers over 55% of its calories in the form of dietary fat. Children recover more quickly from acute severe malnutrition on RUTFs than on an ordinary healthful diet. The high fat content speeds weight-gain, which is a measure of recovery from malnutrition in children.

How does do RUTFs relate to the larger problem of preventing world hunger? Macronutrients. Hunger is defined by an insufficiency of macronutrients, especially protein and fat. The salutation to acute severe malnutrition is found in supplying a high amount of fat, a moderate amount of protein, and some additional carbs. That is the proven formula, currently in use, incorporated into various RUTF products.

But the same approach can be applied to hunger in general. The hungry primarily lack dietary fat, and secondarily lack protein. Only some of the hungry need additional carbs. The main cause of hunger is the lack of dietary fat, and its main solution is to provide dietary fat.

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