Optimizing micronutrient intake of lactating women through increased wild edible plant consumption in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa
Micronutrient consumption in many developing countries is insufficient to meet the needs of numerous individuals, resulting in a negative impact on health. Increasing consumption of wild edible plants, which are micronutrient rich, easy to grow, and culturally familiar, has been recommended to combat these deficiencies, but there is a gap in knowledge on which types of plants should be eaten or in what quantity. The objective of this project was to determine the optimal blend of South African wild edible plants needed to fill gaps between typical micronutrient consumption of lactating women in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and estimated requirements. This was done by creating optimization models using linear programming. Components of these models included identifying gaps between current micronutrient intake measured in a sample of lactating women and Estimated Average Requirements (EAR) and the creation of composite nutrient profiles for groups of wild edible plants available in KwaZulu-Natal. Models calculated the optimum amounts of wild edible plants that would need to be consumed in addition to the current diet to meet micronutrient recommendations and the amounts needed if half the additional calories consumed would replace an equivalent number of calories of maize meal. A combination of 250g leafy vegetables and 349g fruit, replacing 54g of maize meal, was determined to be the best model. This mixture met the micronutrient needs of 50% of lactating women and added only 192 calories to the diet. This data can provide policy makers with the information necessary to formulate effective nutritional interventions. The high level of recommended change, however, also highlights the need to employ multiple approaches to achieving improved nutrition. Additional information is needed on the availability and nutritional values of wild edible plants in South Africa. Despite these limitations, it is clear that a reasonable increase in wild edible plant consumption can have a tremendous positive impact on micronutrient consumption of lactating women in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Key words: wild edible plants, diet, lactation
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