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Therapeutic foods are foods designed for specific, usually nutritional, therapeutic purposes as a form of dietary supplement. The primary examples of therapeutic foods are used for emergency feeding of malnourished children or to supplement the diets of persons with special nutrition requirements, such as the elderly.
Therapeutic foods are usually made of a mixture of protein, carbohydrate, lipid and vitamins and minerals. Therapeutic foods are usually produced by grinding all ingredients together and mixing them. “The mixing process allows for the protein and carbohydrate components of the food to be embedded in the lipid matrix. The size of the particles in the mixture has to be less than 200 µm for the mixture to maintain its consistency. Using this method, the therapeutic food is produced and packaged without using water, which would eliminate the issue of spoilage. Some therapeutic foods require the addition of water before administering, while others can be consumed as-is. Therapeutic foods are designed and manufactured to ensure that they are ready to eat straight from the packaging. Those foods resist bacterial contamination and require no cooking.
The World Health Organization's standards for the treatment of malnutrition in children specify the use of two formulas during initial treatment, F-75 and F-100. These formulas contain a mixture of powdered milk, sugar, and other ingredients designed to provide an easily absorbed mix of carbohydrates and essential micronutrients. They are generally provided as powdered mixes which are reconstituted with water. The WHO recommends the use of these formulas, with the gradual introduction of other foods, until the child approaches a normal weight.
The standard treatment of childhood malnutrition is administered in two phases. Phase one usually deals with children who are severely malnourished and very ill as a result. The therapy used in this phase is F-75, a milk-based liquid food containing modest amounts of energy and protein (75 kcal/100 mL and 0.9 g protein/100 mL) and the administration of parenteral antibiotics. When an improvement in the child’s appetite and clinical condition is observed, the child is entered into phase two of the treatment. This phase uses F-100. F-100 is a “specially formulated, high-energy, high-protein (100 kcal/100 mL, 2.9 g protein/100 mL) milk-based liquid food”. The child is in phase two until he/she is no longer wasted [weight-for-height z score (WHZ) 2]. Phase two starts while the child is at the hospital but is usually completed after the child goes home. The parent is then responsible for feeding the child a flour supplement made of cereal and legumes as a replacement for the milk-based foods used in phases one and two.
Ready-to-use therapeutic food
|Moisture content||2.5% maximum|
|Proteins||10 to 12% total energy|
|Lipids||45 to 60% total energy|
|Sodium||290 mg/100g maximum|
|Potassium||1100 to 1400 mg/100g|
|Calcium||300 to 600 mg/100g|
|Phosphorus (excluding phytate)||300 to 600 mg/100g|
|Magnesium||80 to 140 mg/100g|
|Iron||10 to 14 mg/100g|
|Zinc||11 to 14 mg/100g|
|Copper||1.4 to 1.8 mg/100g|
|Selenium||20 to 40 µg|
|Iodine||70 to 140 µg/100g|
|Vitamin A||0.8 to 1.1 mg/100g|
|Vitamin D||15 to 20 µg/100g|
|Vitamin E||20 mg/100g minimum|
|Vitamin K||15 to 30 µg/100g|
|Vitamin B1||0.5 mg/100g minimum|
|Vitamin B2||1.6 mg/100g minimum|
|Vitamin C||50 mg/100g minimum|
|Vitamin B6||0.6 mg/100g minimum|
|Vitamin B12||1.6 µg/100g minimum|
|Folic acid||200 µg/100g minimum|
|Niacin||5 mg/100g minimum|
|Pantothenic acid||3 mg/100g minimum|
|Biotin||60 µg/100g minimum|
|n-6 fatty acids||3% to 10% of total energy|
|n-3 fatty acids||0.3 to 2.5% of total energy|
A subset of therapeutic foods, ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs), are energy-dense, micronutrient-enriched pastes that have a nutritional profile similar to the traditional F-100 milk-based diet used in inpatient therapeutic feeding programs and are often made of peanuts, oil, sugar and milk powder.
RUTFs are a “homogeneous mixture of lipid-rich and water-soluble foods.” The lipids used in formulating RUTFs are in a viscous liquid form. The other ingredients are in small particles and are mixed through the lipid. The other ingredients are protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. The mixture needs to be homogeneous for it to be effectively consumed. To do this, a specific mixing process is needed. The fat/lipid component of the RUTF is heated and stirred first. The heat should be maintained for the lipid to remain in the optimum form for mixing in the other ingredients. The powdered protein, carbohydrate, and vitamins and minerals are then slowly and gradually added to the lipid, while the lipid is being vigorously stirred. After all the ingredients are added and vigorous stirring is maintained, the mixture is then stirred with more speed and for several minutes. If the powdered ingredients have a particle size that is larger than 200 µm, the mixture starts to separate; the particle size needs to be maintained at less than 200 µm.
The most common RUTFs are made of four ingredients: sugar, dried skimmed milk, oil, and vitamin and mineral supplement (CMV). Other qualities that RUTFs should have included a texture that is soft or crushable and a taste is acceptable and suitable for young children. RUTFs should be ready to eat without needing to be cooked. A very important characteristic is that the RUTFs have a long shelf-life and that they are micro-organism contamination resistant, without the need for expensive packaging. Since the ingredients need to be suspended in liquid, the liquid used in producing RUTFs needs to be fat/lipid. 50% of the protein forming RUTFs should come from dairy products.
There is insufficient evidence to establish the effectiveness of ready to use therapeutic food within the person's own home for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in children under five years of age.
- K-Mix 2: A high energy food, developed by UNICEF in the 1960s.
- Citadel spread: a paste of peanuts, oil, sugar and milk powder in use since 1971
- Plumpy'nut, a solid RUTF, made in France since 1996 for treatment of severe acute malnutrition
- Medika Mamba, an enriched peanut butter therapeutic food produced and distributed by Meds and Food for Kids in Haiti since 2003
- BP-100, a nutrient-fortified wheat-and-oat bar designed to provide a similar nutritional profile to F-100 by the World Health Organization
- Manary, M.J. (2006) Local production and provision of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) spread for the treatment of severe childhood malnutrition. Food & Nutrition Bulletin. 27(3): 83-89(7). Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/nsinf/fnb/2006/00000027/A00303s3/art00005
- "Management of Severe Malnutrition: A Manual for Physicians and Other Senior Health Workers" (PDF). World Health Organization. Retrieved 11 February 2011.
- "Management of Severe Malnutrition: A Manual for Physicians and Other Senior Health Workers". World Health Organization. Retrieved 11 February 2011.
- Ciliberto, M.A.; Sandige, H.; Ndekha, M.J.; Ashorn, P.; Briend, A.; Ciliberto, H.M.; Manary, M.J. (2005) Comparison of home-based therapy with ready-to-use therapeutic food with standard therapy in the treatment of malnourished Malawian children: a controlled, clinical effectiveness trial. Am J Clin Nutr; 81:864-70. Retrieved from http://www.samchild.com/home-based/comparison.PDF
- The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust (2011). Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition in Children Under Five Years: Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). Retrieved on Oct. 12, 2011. Retrieved from http://motherchildnutrition.org/malnutrition-management/info/rutf-plumpy-nut.html
- Isanaka, S.; Nombela, N.; Djibo, A.; Poupard, M.; Van Beckhoven, D; Gaboulaud, V.; Guerin, P.J.; Grais, R.F. (2009) Effect of preventive supplementation with ready-to-use-therapeutic food on the nutritional status, mortality and morbidity of children 6 to 60 months in Niger: a cluster randomized trial. JAMA. January 21; 301(3): 277–285.
- Schoonees, Anel; Lombard, M; Musekiwa, A; Nel, E; Volmink, J (2013). "Ready-to-use therapeutic food for home-based treatment of severe acute malnutrition in children from six months to five years of age". Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (6). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009000.pub2. PMID 23744450.