Industrialized snacks have always exercised an irresistible attraction upon children, in spite of their low caloric value. Imagine, then, if this villain could be rich in vitamin A, free of saturated fats and with a high level of iron – an essential element in combating anemia, an illness present in many school children. What may well have seemed a dream for mothers is in fact not so far from becoming reality. In an attempt to associate children’s taste for foods of doubtful nutritional value to the need for a balanced food, mainly for the lower-income brackets of society, researchers at the Nutrition Department of the Public Health School of the University of Sao Paulo (FSP-USP) have developed a type of snack that uses in its formula the iron obtained from bovine lung.
The choice occurred because this product is normally thrown away as it has no culinary appeal. As well, it was also picked because the quantity of iron that it possesses is three times higher than in animal liver. With this knowledge, the researchers developed a product with an acceptable standard of texture, aroma and taste and then carried out a taste evaluation with children and adults, who pointed to the need for the presence of other elements in the product’s formula, such as corn, chickpea and natural aromas, thus giving the snack the same lure as other nibbles available on the market.
For professor José Alfredo Gomes Arêas, Head of the Nutrition Department at the FSP and the research project’s coordinator, the results attained were satisfactory, because the iron obtained from bovine lung is highly efficient in reversing the situation of anemia. “After being textured, this mineral shows high biological value with 140% of absorption in relation to iron sulphate, or that is to say, besides its large quantity, the iron found revealed itself to be high quality food, very appropriate for combating anemia, a deficiency that inhibits growth and neurological development by diminishing the levels of oxygenation of the blood”, he explains.
Vegetables were essential for the development of the product. “We added in chick pea to the formula for the snack so that it would be more acceptable, without leaving aside the nutritional aspects”, Arêas explains. Transformed into flour, the chick pea showed only 2% of fat and around 20% of protein. After the addition of the bovine lung flour and texturing the product by extrusion, the final product presented a balanced composition of proteins (20%), lipids (15%) and carbohydrates (60%), contrary to conventional snacks with between 20% to 25% of saturated fats and only 4% proteins, of poor biological quality.
Another ingredient researched for the formula of snacks was amaranth, whose seeds are used as a cereal. Of Andean origin, the plant has nutritional and physiological properties capable of reducing levels of cholesterol and, consequently, the risks of cardiovascular illnesses, as the research by the team showed. Embrapa Cerrados, from Planaltina in the Federal District, have carried out work on selection and the adaptation of varieties of amaranth.
But there is no point in having more nutritional food if the snacks are not appealing to the consumer. “For producing the aroma, we made use of around 10% of canola or sunflower oil instead of the 23% of hydrogenated vegetable fat used for conventional products”, the researcher says. The equipment used for the manufacture of the snacks was the same as used in the industry. The ingredients are introduced into a tube equipped with a screw thread. After being mashed, the dough that is formed is pushed through small holes that regulate the internal pressure of the equipment, in a process that is given the name extrusion. After breaking freed from the holes, the water contained in the dough evaporates, bringing about an expansion of the product, which gains a definite shape.
The project, which involved various researchers, had a final production of 300 kilos of snacks, given an aroma and with a taste similar to those available on the market, but with its own characteristics in its composition: 14.85% of lipids, 61.33% of carbohydrates, 18.69% of proteins, 7.41 milligrams of iron in each 100 grams of product, as well as vitamin A and the absence of saturated fats, which when consumed hike up the cholesterol level, which is damaging to the organism.
The snack went through a nutritional evaluation carried out by children of between 2 and 6 years of age, in two public municipal kindergartens in the city of Teresina in the state of Piauí, where high levels of moderate anemia had been observed, caused by a deficiency of iron in the food. The product was served in one of the kindergartens to a group of 130 children who had shown signs of anemia, substituting the traditional biscuits in one of their food breaks, in such a manner as to guarantee the same quantity of calories. With 30 grams of the snack per day, three times per week, during a two-month period, an amount of iron of between 30-40% of the needs of the children was consumed. During the same period, the other kindergarten, with the same characteristics was also monitored, but without any intervention in their diet.
At the end of the intervention period, the occurrence of anemia in the group that had received the snacks, previously at 61.5%, fell to 11% in the children older than 6 years, whilst for the children below this age the index dropped to zero. In the group that did not go through any food intervention, the prevalence of anemia, of 62%, remained unaltered. “By taking in 30% to 40% of the daily needs of iron, it was possible to end the anemia”, Arêas concludes. He has already presented the results of the research to some of the companies in the food industry with the goal f transferring the technology of the production, but as yet has not had any positive response as to production on an industrial scale.
Nutrition and Health: An Integrated Approach to the Nutritional Evaluation and Foodstuffs Development for Special Purposes and Nutritional Intervention
José Alfredo Gomes Arêas – Public Health Faculty of USP
R$ 270,203.26 and US$ 125,983.00