Evaluating Sweet Potato as an Intervention Food to Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency

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Vitamin A (VA) deficiency causes over 600000 deaths per year, mostly of young children or pregnant women. Populations prone to VA deficiency obtain about 82% of their VA from plant sources that are rich in pro-VA carotenoids such as beta-carotene. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) are an especially good source. We evaluated OFSP carotenoid concentrations, bioaccessibility, and cooking and storage, then used this to estimate the amount of OFSP needed to supply 100% of VA for people at risk for deficiency. The grams/day of OFSP needed to meet VA requirements varies with age and sex, and with the amount of beta-carotene in the OFSP. Amounts ranged from 6 to 33 g/d (0.02 to 0.13 cups/d) for a 3-y-old child with marginal VA status; to 68 to 381 g/d, (0.27 to 1.49 cups/d) for a lactating woman with good status. These are amounts that can be eaten on a daily basis. The amount of OFSP needed to supply the VA requirement to all of the 208.1 million people most in danger of VA deficiency for 1 y is 2.1 to 11.7 million metric tons, or 2% to 11% of current world sweet potato production. The most important factor influencing the effectiveness of sweet potato for preventing VA deficiency, by far, is the variety of sweet potato used. Fat in the diet is also important. We conclude that OFSP could prevent VA deficiency in many food-deficit countries—if OFSP were substituted for white, cream, yellow, or purple sweet potatoes.

Betty J. Burri
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety