The statistics show the continued, and sadly in some cases growing, prevalence of malnutrition in a number of countries. The 2015 Global Nutrition Report (GNR) had as one of its key messages, “Although a great deal of progress is being made in reducing malnutrition, it is still too slow and too uneven.” And the 2016 GNR just launched this month, states that “Malnutrition and diet are by far the biggest risk factors for the global burden of disease: every country is facing a serious public health challenge from malnutrition.” Addressing nutrient (macro and micro) deficiencies amongst the most vulnerable, usually women and children is proving to be a ‘hard egg to crack’ and requires disruptive ideas and real innovation.
Enter the humble egg
Eaten since the beginning of time; eaten almost everywhere in the world; relatively easy to obtain; adaptable to many different types of cooking techniques and; an affordable source of highly digestible protein, we believe that the time has come to re-think and innovate around the humble egg!
We are not alone in our thinking, and Iannotti et al. have written an excellent review article that eloquently positions the egg as offering real potential to improve maternal and child nutrition in developing countries. Studies promoting egg consumption for women and children as part of wider dietary improvements show that, child growth indicators are significantly improved in the intervention group compared to controls and a recent breakthrough research study shows that all nine essential amino acids were significantly lower in stunted children compared with non-stunted children. This is important because it tells us that stunted children are not receiving sufficient quality protein from their diets.
Did we put all our eggs in one basket?
Could this research point to the fact that in nutrition’s zeal, over the last four decades, to focus on ensuring that children received sufficient micronutrients (particularly vitamin A, iodine, iron, zinc, and folate), that protein fell off the agenda? It would seem that the widespread assumption that children were receiving enough protein from their basic diet was incorrect. Now is the time to realise that it is not ‘either/or’ but rather that optimal child growth and thus development, depends on addressing deficits of both protein and micronutrients. This calls for ensuring adequate micronutrient and protein in the diet especially during critical life stages – pregnancy, lactation, infancy and adolescence. We need to take a holistic approach and embrace the farm to flush approach anchored in food systems (take a look at this Sight and Life magazine focusing on food systems), so as not to neglect any of the nutrients as we look to future solutions that can be scaled up in order to have the impact that the 2016 GNR rightly puts under the spotlight.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
While eggs are a highly nutritious food source, both the productivity of laying hens and the nutritional content of their eggs are, to a certain extent, a function of the hen’s dietary intake. The reality is that for laying hens, an optimally micronutrient fortified diet improves egg production in numerous ways – increased egg numbers, improved egg weights, percentage lay and increased feed efficiency. Interestingly, for many micronutrients, egg content responds rapidly (within a few weeks) to dietary changes; transfer efficiency, from feed to egg, does depend on the micronutrient – high for vitamin A, selenium, iodine, and DHA; medium for vitamin D and E and; low for folic acid, niacin, and iron. This points, to a real opportunity to improve the nutritional value of eggs with only limited input in the feed and in egg eating populations requires no need for dietary behaviour change communication, which we know to be both costly and not always highly successful.
Projections from FAO suggest significant growth in egg consumption in developing countries. Even in countries considered to have largely vegetarian population, such as India, data shows that the diet of many Indian households is diversifying to include more animal source foods, a trend that has been particularly notable in rural populations. This makes the idea of tapping into the potential of eggs extremely eggciting. A ‘powdered’ micronutrient feed supplement for chickens could contribute to solutions for farmer through improved egg production and, for consumer by providing added nutritional value. An additional advantage of eggs is their environmentally friendly packaging.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating
There is research to show the benefits of consuming fortified eggs. A 2009 study showed that feeding DHA-fortified eggs to infants and pregnant mothers improved infant visual acuity and attention and other studies have found that DHA fortified eggs were associated with increased gestational duration and infant birth size. In addition to DHA, there is literature to support the role of eggs in reducing deficiencies of iodine and vitamin A and even decreased anemia.
“Leaders don’t wait for problems to lay eggs before they attempt dealing with them.”
– Israelmore Ayivor
A range of nutrients delivering various levels of their recommended daily allowance could relatively easily be added to eggs through the chicken feed. There are many avenues to explore, such as supplying micronutrient feed supplement directly to existing farmer networks or to women running poultry programs. Simultaneous social marketing campaigns could encourage egg consumption and an assessment over time could be undertaken to provide the evidence of impact…
Sight and Life is actively exploring these eggciting opportunities and would be interested in hearing from anyone keen to invest or partner with us, as we believe the egg just can’t be beaten.
To contact us regarding this project send an email to Kalpana.Beesabathuni@sightandlife.org