Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Soy and OFSP: A Nutritious Complementary Food for Weaning-Age Children


Photo: A Catholic Relief Services enumerator instructs a mother in the village of Awaradone in Upper East Region, Ghana in making a ComFA formulation. All study participants received instruction in making all four of the ComFA formulations. Credit: Dr. Juan Andrade.

May marks the final stage of the Soybean Innovation Lab's (SIL) Early Childhood Nutrition Study. The study surveyed over 200 mother-infant pairs across two villages in northern Ghana to assess the feasibility and acceptability of four different formulations of ComFA (Complementary Food for Africa), a complementary food made from soy flour and orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP). 

What are complementary foods, and why are they so critical? The quality of a child’s diet falls when transitioning from breast milk to weaning foods, as weaning foods tend to be high in starch and low in protein as well as other critical micronutrients. A complementary food blends, in this case, a high protein ingredient like soybean with a traditional high starch staple, such as sweet potato. Click here for a discussion of complementary weaning foods.

Improving the nutritional profile often involves a trade-off in terms of acceptability (taste, texture, flavor, color, etc.) because the new formulation reflects a transformation of the traditional food. So, will the new complementary food be as acceptable as the food it replaces? Improving the nutritional profile may also involve a trade-off in terms of the feasibility of the product within the normal cooking routines of a household. So, will the new complementary food be as easy to prepare as the food it replaces?

The study involved collaboration between SIL researchers Dr. Juan Andrade and Margaret Cornelius, Francis Kweku Amagloh of the University for Development Studies (UDS), and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS enumerators prepared batches of five different complementary foods: Weanimix (maize, soy, cowpea, groundnut, sugar); ComFA (orange-fleshed sweet potato, soy, oil) plus anchovies; ComFA plus moringa; ComFA plus groundnut; and simply orange-fleshed sweet potato combined with soy. The team demonstrated each step of the preparation to mothers participating in the study.  

Preliminary data analysis indicates that the ComFA products achieved high levels of both feasibility and acceptability among infants and their mothers who trialed the process of making the soy-enhanced complementary food in their own homes. “Any complementary food necessarily has to bring together high-quality protein and energy, and the ComFA product has both. More importantly, the formula has the right consistency and flavor, so children will consume it without problems,” said Dr. Andrade. “Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are naturally sweet and present a bright orange color, which helps reduce the cost of additional ingredients for complementary foods such as sugar,” he added. Dr. Amagloh noted that mothers "mentioned that the ComFA formulations took less time to prepare and used less water" than other complementary foods in the marketplace.  

With the conclusion of the study, Dr. Andrade and Dr. Amagloh will collaborate to conduct nutritional analyses of the weaning food samples and then publish the results of the acceptability and feasibility study. Policymakers and health workers will use the study findings to plan and support the development of complementary foods that are nutritious, tasty and easily prepared.

Both Dr. Andrade and Dr. Amagloh see great potential in ComFA as a high-protein and vitamin A-rich alternative to the typically energy-dense, but low in protein, complementary foods found in Africa. SIL’s mission is to produce the evidence to support and inform decision makers to successfully reduce poverty and malnutrition through the introduction of soybean.

You can obtain more information about the activities of SIL at www.soybeaninnovationlab.illinois.edu.