Africa shares a unique relationship with maize (Zea mays). After its introduction from New World explorers, maize was quickly adopted as the cornerstone of local cuisine, especially in sub-Saharan countries. Although maize provides macro- and micronutrients required for humans, it lacks adequate amounts of the essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan. For those consuming >50% of their daily energy from maize, pandemic protein malnutrition may exist. Severe protein and energy malnutrition increases susceptibility to life-threatening diseases such as tuberculosis and gastroenteritis. A nutritionally superior maize cultivar named quality protein maize (QPM) represents nearly one-half century of research dedicated to malnutrition eradication. Compared with traditional maize types, QPM has twice the amount of lysine and tryptophan, as well as protein bioavailability that rivals milk casein. Animal and human studies suggest that substituting QPM for common maize results in improved health. However, QPM’s practical contribution to maize-subsisting populations remains unresolved. Herein, total protein and essential amino acid requirements recommended by the WHO and the Institute of Medicine were applied to estimate QPM target intake levels for young children and adults, and these were compared with mean daily maize intakes by African country. The comparisons revealed that ~100 g QPM is required for children to maintain adequacy of lysine, the most limiting amino acid, and nearly 500 g is required for adults. This represents a 40% reduction in maize intake relative to common maize to meet protein requirements. The importance of maize in Africa underlines the potential for QPM to assist in closing the protein inadequacy gap.
Advances in Nutrition (2011) 2 (3) 217-224 [doi: 10.3945/?an.110.000182]