Butternut Squash Seed Paste Boosts Iron and Zinc in Kids

Jim Crocker
20th April, 2024

Butternut Squash Seed Paste Boosts Iron and Zinc in Kids

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In South Africa, butternut squash seed paste improved iron and zinc levels in preschool kids
  • Children who ate the seed paste also showed better growth in weight and height
  • The control group did not see the same micronutrient benefits as the seed paste group
Micronutrients, though required in small amounts, play a crucial role in human health and development. Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to serious health problems, especially in vulnerable populations such as preschool children. In light of this, researchers from Stellenbosch University have conducted a study[1] with the aim of addressing micronutrient deficiencies through a food-based intervention, using a locally available and nutritious plant: the Cucurbita moschata, commonly known as butternut squash. The study focused on the seeds of the butternut squash, which are known to be rich in important nutrients such as iron and zinc. Iron is the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide[2], leading to issues like anemia, reduced work capacity, and impaired immune function. Zinc deficiency is similarly problematic, associated with stunted growth and increased susceptibility to infections[2][3]. These nutrients are particularly important for preschool children, who are at a critical stage of growth and development. In the study, researchers conducted a pretest-posttest control group trial over a six-month period. They recruited 276 preschool children from eight Early Childhood Development centers in the Limpopo province of South Africa. The children were split into two groups: the control group consumed butternut squash flesh, while the intervention group consumed a paste made from the seeds of the same plant. Both groups received these foods twice weekly. The researchers measured various indicators of iron and zinc status in the children, including serum iron, transferrin, transferrin saturation, ferritin, and serum zinc. They also recorded anthropometric data such as weight, height, and mid-upper arm circumference. To assess dietary intake, they used a 24-hour dietary recall and food frequency questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study. The findings were significant. The intervention group showed marked improvements in serum iron, ferritin, transferrin saturation, and zinc levels. These children also demonstrated greater gains in weight-for-age and weight-for-height scores, suggesting better overall growth. Additionally, their consumption of iron, zinc, and vitamin C increased considerably. In contrast, while the control group did see increases in fiber, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, they did not experience the same improvements in iron and zinc status as the intervention group. This suggests that the butternut squash seed paste was particularly effective in enhancing levels of these critical micronutrients. These findings are especially relevant given the high prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies globally. A pooled analysis of population-based surveys estimated that 56% of preschool-aged children and 69% of non-pregnant women of reproductive age worldwide have deficiencies in at least one of three key micronutrients: iron, zinc, and vitamin A or folate[4]. The regions most affected include South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the burden of stunting and micronutrient deficiencies is particularly high[3]. The Stellenbosch University study presents a compelling case for the use of butternut squash seed paste as a sustainable, cost-effective intervention to improve iron and zinc status among preschool children in rural areas. It builds on previous research[2][3][4] by providing a practical solution that leverages local agricultural resources, which could be particularly beneficial for regions where micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent. By improving the micronutrient status of children, such interventions have the potential to positively impact their growth, cognitive development, and overall health. This could, in turn, contribute to breaking the cycle of malnutrition and its intergenerational effects, supporting economic development and human capital at the country level[2]. In conclusion, the study from Stellenbosch University not only highlights the nutritional potential of butternut squash seeds but also offers a tangible approach to mitigating the widespread issue of micronutrient deficiencies. Its success in improving the nutritional status of children in South Africa could serve as a model for other regions facing similar challenges.



Main Study

1) Effects of Cucurbita Moschata squash (Butternut) seed paste in improving zinc and iron status in children attending Early Childhood Development centres in Limpopo province, South Africa.

Published 18th April, 2024


Related Studies

2) The epidemiology of global micronutrient deficiencies.


3) Estimating the global prevalence of zinc deficiency: results based on zinc availability in national food supplies and the prevalence of stunting.


4) Micronutrient deficiencies among preschool-aged children and women of reproductive age worldwide: a pooled analysis of individual-level data from population-representative surveys.


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