Dietary-induced Zinc Deficiency in low Income Countries: Challenges and Solutions The Avanelle Kirksey Lecture at Purdue University

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Abstract

Zinc deficiency has far-reaching consequences on maternal, infant, and child health, resulting in impairments in growth, immune competence, reproductive function, and neurobehavioral development. A major determinant of zinc deficiency in low-income populations is inadequate intakes of dietary zinc, induced by low zinc intakes, and poor bioavailability. Several food-based strategies can be used to enhance zinc intake including those designed to increase the consumption of cellular animal foods (ie, meat, poultry, fish), rich in absorbable zinc; national and targeted zinc fortification programs; and biofortification. Improvements in the bioavailability of zinc can be achieved by reducing the phytate content of unrefined cereals and legumes via soaking, fermentation, or germination at the household level, adding phytase enzyme to zinc fortificants, or producing low-phytate cereal varieties through biofortification involving plant breeding or genetic engineering. Many of these food-based strategies have the potential to improve zinc nutriture in low-income countries, especially in resource-poor households and across generations, with the aim of enhancing growth and pregnancy outcome and reducing child morbidity and mortality. To be effective, such strategies must be integrated with ongoing national agriculture, food, nutrition, and health education programs and implemented using a participatory approach to ensure their acceptability, adoption, and sustainability.

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