But the trouble with soy blends is deeper than just cost. Just because vitamins are present in a food doesn't mean the body can access it, said Michael Dunn, an associate professor of food science at Brigham Young University. For example, in many developing countries, the government recommends boiling water before using it, Dunn said. People add the corn soy blend to the cold water then boil it for forty five minutes. Most vitamins survived the boiling, but, by the end, only 10 percent of the vitamin C remained.
"If we are going to continue to use these products, something needs to be done about vitamin C," Dunn said.
Dunn and his colleague at BYU, Paul Johnston, have both been involved in developing fortified foods for use in developing countries. Dunn helped millers in South America come up with a system of adding vitamins to mass-produced tortillas. Johnston designed a "super cookie" to treat malnourished children in Bolivia.
But while these fortified super foods do boost metabolisms and correct deficiencies, their effects last only as long as the international aid community is shipping them in, Dunn said. Because of the logistical challenges of establishing routine food fortification in developing country's, there's a general consensus — even among those who make their living developing fortified foods — that the answer to hunger in developing countries lies, not in scientifically altered super foods, but in education.
"These kinds of foods are helpful for the short term," said James Hansen, a nutrition advisor to the welfare department for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a retired pediatrician. "It will get them through until they can be on their feet better and sustain a life or two in the process. But foods like Plumpy'Nut aren't a long-term solution. It's just not sustainable."
Even so, Hansen said — and Johnston and Hansch agreed — the hype surrounding Plumpy'Nut has been a positive thing for international food aid. It might not be a miracle cure to malnutrition, but it has done a miraculous thing for the food fortification industry.
"Plumpy'Nut has the attention of the world," he said.
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