CALS researchers are looking for clues in maize that could help combat Vitamin A deficiency. Wai Hlaing “Chris” Bwar, a dietetics major from Yangon, Myanmar, is working under nutritional sciences’ Sherry Tanumihardjo and Chris Davis on a colorful mission: to learn how different processing techniques for corn impact the nutritional availability of carotenoids, the yellow pigments in food that our bodies convert to Vitamin A.
For example, nixtamalization — where maize is heated and steeped in lime or ash — used in Central America can result in a much different nutritional profile than more mechanical processing techniques common in Africa. The lab’s research is done under yellow-filtered light since carotenoids can degrade under full-spectrum light.
While Vitamin A deficiency isn’t currently a concern for the United States and most of the developed world, it’s a much different story in parts of Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia. As many as 250 million children worldwide suffer from Vitamin A deficiency. Between 250,000 and 500,000 go blind from the malnourishment each year, with half of those dying within 12 months of losing their vision.