| FOOD CHAIN No. 8 - March 1993 |
The problems of getting children to eat nutritious green vegetables are shared by parents throughout the world. David Kennedy describes how Find Your Feet, an organization with projects in Asia and Latin America, is making a delicious and nutritious lemonade with leaf concentrates which has children coming back for more.
Really good lemonade is made with fresh squeezed lemons and sugar, and served as cold as the day is hot. The 'best lemonade in the world' not only tastes good, it is good for you. What makes this lemonade extra special is the spoonful of fresh leaf concentrate mixed into each glass, which turns the drink into a highly charged nutritional booster.
Leaf concentrate is a mild-flavoured curd made by grinding plant leaves to a pulp, either with a machine or by hand using a pestle and mortar. The juice is then separated, and heated to just below boiling point until it coagulates. The curd is filtered using a cloth filter and pressed to extract the remaining liquid. It is then washed in clean water, repressed and is ready to eat.
It is an extremely nutritious food, containing substantial amounts of iron, beta carotene and vitamin E, plus considerable quantities of calcium, protein, folic acid and other essential nutrients.
Recent work in Bolivia shows that a daily glass containing 25mg of vitamin C and 15g of moist leaf concentrate cures anaemia in six year old children and has a remarkable effect on their resistance to respiratory diseases and diarrhoea.
Leaf concentrate is the richest vegetable source of iron. By combining it with a good source of vitamin C, the nutritional benefits are further enhanced as vitamin C makes the iron more available for the body to use.
The high beta-carotene content of leaf concentrate cures vitamin A deficiency and so protects against nutritional blindness. It also provides protection against infections by boosting the immune system. The daily glass of green lemonade is a very useful way for families, who cannot afford meat or eggs, to defeat anaemia in their children and protect them from infection.
The idea of using green leafy foods to improve children's diets is hardly new. Every development journal extols the virtues of families growing their own dark green leafy vegetables for consumption by their children. However, as many parents worldwide know, these foods are normally eaten in very small amounts in the context of bribes and threats or are refused outright.
Not true with the lemonade however. We often see kids drink a big glass of the enriched lemonade and come back for a refill. Because the leaf concentrate is about ten times as rich in iron as the leaves from which it was made, a child would have to eat a very large plateful of greens to match the iron content.
In many tropical countries, where most of the world's malnourished children live, good quality leafy vegetables are not always available in the market. Without refrigeration, they quickly wilt. To be marketable, leaf vegetables must be not only crisp and fresh, but also free from insect damage. Leaf concentrate offers a way to bypass these two problems and realise the full nutritional potential of leafy vegetables.
The concentrate can be produced during the rainy season when leaf crops thrive; then dried or preserved as a paste mixed with sugar for use throughout the year If properly packaged it can also be combined with sugar and lemon juice to make a handy syrup that can be easily stored and transported, shell mixed with water when it is time to serve it.
The blemishes from insects that make leaf vegetables unsightly and unsaleable are irrelevant when the leaves are turned into leaf concentrate, since they are ground to a pulp anyway. This also means that the farmer does not need to apply pesticides when growing the crop.
MISSING OUT AT HOME
Even more important perhaps, when dealing with malnourished children on nutrition intervention programmes, is the belief of hard-pressed parents that any child being fed by someone else' does not need his or her 'rations' at home, which can therefore be distributed around the rest of the family. This can have the absurd result that malnourished children become even more malnourished on a feeding programme than left alone.
However, parents do not see a drink of lemonade as a meal, and children receiving lemonade can still receive their full portion of food when they get back home.
In conclusion it can be seen that fortified lemonade is not only good for children, but has advantages for other members of the community. Processing leaves to make leaf concentrate preserves their nutritional value and enables farmers to get a good price for a crop that in the tropics has little chance of staying marketable for more than a few hours after harvest. Mixing the concentrate with sugar and lemonade to make a syrup provides a highly nutritious and very popular drink that prolongs and enhances the preservation of the nutrients. It is truly a value added process, because in the end the children really do receive the best lemonade in the world.