INTRODUCTION TO COWPEAS AND IT’S NUTRITIONAL QUALITY
Food legume crops represent an important component of agricultural food crops consumed in developing countries and are considered a vital crop for achieving food and nutritional security for both poor producers and consumers. Pulses represent one of the most important food categories that have been extensively used as staple foods to cover basic protein and energy needs throughout the history of humanity. Pulses are important food crops due to their high protein and essential amino acid content. The seeds of pulse crops are typically made up of 20-25% protein compared to 6-10% protein content in major cereal crops. They enhance the protein content of cereal-based diets and improve the nutritional quality of the cereal-based diets. Cereal proteins are deficient in certain essential amino acids, particularly lysine (Amjad et al., 2003). On the other hand, legumes have been reported to contain adequate amounts of lysine, but are deficient in S-containing amino acids (methionine, cystine and cysteine) (Farzana and Khalil, 1999). In dietary terms, food legumes complement cereal crops as a source of protein and minerals.
Pulses are the main source of protein in the diet of vegetarians, and feature prominently in the traditional cuisine of virtually every region of the globe. Moreover, in recent years there has been a change in the consumption of pulses in several developed countries where they are increasingly considered as health foods (Ipsos Reid, 2010; USDA-ERS, 2011).
Cowpeas, a native crop of West Africa, are one of the most important food legume crops now grown in the semi-arid tropics covering Asia, Africa, southern Europe and Central and South America. A drought tolerant and warm-weather crop, cowpeas are well-adapted to the drier regions of the tropics, where other food legumes do not perform well. In terms of area harvested, cowpeas are the second most important food legume crops in the world. According to FAO data, cowpeas are grown on 11.4 million ha worldwide. Cowpea is a major source of protein (24.1 per cent), minerals and vitamins (Bressani, 1985). With all these attributes, cowpea positively impacts on the nutrition and health of poor people, particularly children.
Malnutrition is widespread in many areas of the world. The most serious nutritional problem is protein calorie malnutrition (PEM), especially among children in the developing countries. The lower income group of the population is particularly vulnerable, because of its low purchasing power and because the conventional sources of protein (meat and milk) are usually costly and thus beyond the purchasing power of this group. Attention, therefore, must be focused on the cheap, but nutritious plant protein sources, such as pulses and cereals. It is advisable to enhance the protein content of easily available and accessible plant protein sources (especially legumes) to improve the nutritional status of the low-income groups of the population. In order to improve the protein quality of leguminous seeds, their consumption should be combined with cereals or other protein sources (Iqbal et al., 2006).
Childhood malnutrition remains as a major public health problem worldwide and has been widely recognized as an important risk factor for child mortality. An estimated 2.8 million child deaths was reported each year in the nine low-income Asian countries including India (Rice, 2001). Protein energy malnutrition accounts for higher mortality rate in India (95/1000 live births) compared to developed countries (Bhandari et al., 1988; Dahiya and Kapoor, 1994). School children constitute one of the important segments accounting 27% of the total population of India (Reddy et al., 1993). National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB, 1998) has indicated that pre-school children consume nearly 75% of the recommended energy. Energy consumption less than 80% of the requirement is reported to be a risk factor for malnutrition of pre-school children (Khabdiat et al., 1998).
Prevalence rates of undernutrition among children in India (47.5%) are far greater than that of Sub-Saharan Africa (30%) (Rosegrant and Meijer, 2002). Almost three quarters of Indian children are underweight due to undernutrition. Undernutrition here is not just related to access to food, but is also due to poor access to health care, poor sanitation, early weaning, and poor maternal nutritional status during pregnancy (World Bank, 2007). Undernutrition in India is observed primarily in the form of protein energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies (Muller and Krawinkel, 2005).
Undernutrition in young children is usually determined by measurements of height, weight, and skinfold thickness (de Onis and Blossner, 2003). The most commonly used measures of undernutrition are: low height-for-age, low weight-for-height, and low weight-for-age. Jones and colleagues report that nutrition interventions alone can save about 2.4 million children each year (Jones et al., 2003).
Supplementation with legumes is one way to meet the needs for protein foods, particularly baked foods. Biscuits, cookies, cakes are widely consumed that have relatively long shelf life and good eating qualities. Such qualities of food products make large scale production and distribution possible, in the short period. Biscuits can be easily fortified (Mishra et al., 1991) with protein rich flours to provide convenient food in order to supplement protein in the diet.
Biscuit are made from flour (usually wheat flour) and all have low moisture content and thereby longer shelf life if protected against moisture and oxygen in the atmosphere (Manley, 2000).
Whole cowpea flour, a good source of protein suitable for the preparation of cookies and biscuits. Flour-like products can be processed fairly easily from mature, dry cowpeas because their natural fat content is 1–2%, with defatting prior to milling not required (McWatters et al., 1995). Blending cowpea with cereals improves the protein quality of the blend and allows the extension of cowpea into cereal-based bakery products and snack chips.
Development of supplementary foods based on locally available cereals and legumes has been suggested by the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to combat malnutrition among mothers and children of low socio-economic groups (Natrajan et al., 1979; Malleshi and Desikachar, 1982; Anjum and Bhagya, 2009).
With this view the present study entitled “Effect of supplementation of cowpea biscuits on nutritional profile of selected pre-school children” is therefore undertaken to explore the possibility of incorporating cowpea flour in biscuits without impairing its acceptability characteristics.
The primary objectives of this study are:
To assess the nutritional status of preschool children (3-5 yrs.) through dietary and anthropometric survey.
To formulate cowpea biscuits for supplementation.
To study the effect of cowpea supplemented biscuits on nutritional status of preschoolers in a randomized controlled trial.