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Is your child getting the right food mix?

By | December 18th 2008 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Maore Ithula

Babies who feed on the popular flour-mix made from bran, legumes and nuts are likely to suffer from mineral deficiency, warns a nutritionist.

Ms Lina Njoroge, a senior nutritionist at Kenyatta National Hospital, says the mixture contains iron and calcium-binding compounds — phytates — that inhibit absorption of the crucial minerals into the body.

Adverse effects are most pronounced in babies who are fed porridge made from a flour mixture of the products.

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Phytates are phosphorus compounds found primarily in cereal grains, legumes, and nuts. They bind with minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc and interfere with their absorption into the body.

Many infants are given porridge made from a mixture of flours including maize millet, finger millet, sorghum, wheat, Soya beans and peanuts. Sometimes dried fresh water sardines (omena) are added.

Unable to absorb iron and calcium, babies become anaemic and suffer bone malformation, she says.

"The mix is a kind of poison," Njoroge says.

The chairperson for the Clinical Nutritionists and Dieticians Association of Kenya, says the mineral–binding happens in boiled mixes of grains and legumes.

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Soya bean that is insufficiently roasted also contains phytates.

Njoroge says taking tea or wine, as part of a meal is unhealthy especially for those suffering from malaria.

Like the problematic grains, tea has tannins — complex polyphenols that bind and precipitate or shrink proteins.

Tannins are astringent, bitter plant polyphenols. The astringency from the tannins is what causes the dry and puckery feeling in the mouth when one takes red wine or an un-ripened fruit.

However, Njoroge says adults do not have to worry.

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"The shelf life of minerals in you body is long. If you are a healthy adult you can take your wine or tea alongside your meals and get away with it for some time," she says. But that should not happen habitually for more than six months.

How does one get the right mix of food?

The nutritionist says it is cost effective to defuse the destructive nature of grains. "To make phytates impotent, soak grains overnight before boiling them. You can then make your githeri with meat and sikuma wiki (kale) and/or terere (amaranth). If you the meal is taken with a glass of milk it is highly nutritious," he says.

To minimise the binding effects of tannins in tea, wine and some fruit juices, take the beverages at least half an hour after your meals, she says.

The nutritionist says apart from children, anaemics, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and those with sickle celll disease should be careful about mixing grains and other foods and drinks.

Njoroge’s views are supported by a study done a few years ago by Dr J K Mbuthia a paediatrics consultant with Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital.

In the study, Mbuthia found that children in some rural areas suffered rickets after weaning even though they were exposed to sunshine, a source of vitamin D whose deficiency causes the disease.

The study established that the condition was being caused by consumption of porridge made from the mixture of flours, which denied them essential mineral like iron and calcium.

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