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How a new plant-based recipe could transform the benefits of malnutrition treatment – for people and planet

Image UNICEF Sewunet

RUTF stands for Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food – it’s an energy dense paste, made using peanuts, sugar, milk powder, oil, vitamins, and minerals and is used to treat children suffering from severe cases of malnutrition. The key thing to know about RUTF is that it truly is a lifesaver. No arguments. Sadly, there are still 30 million children suffering from acute malnutrition and whilst RUTF is currently the best way to treat it, there are barriers to use that are preventing many children from accessing it. More needs to be done to address what we are seeing as the biggest malnutrition crisis in modern history. And more can be done.

Shockingly, only 1 in 3 children suffering with Severe Acute Malnutrition have access to RUTF. This is due to a number of factors, one of which is supply. Organisations like UNICEF have done a fantastic job of getting RUTF into health and nutrition systems and reaching millions of children. More work can still be done to reach more children.

Recipes for RUTF, using only plant-based ingredients, are being developed. The most advanced vegan alternative to date has been created by Valid Nutrition and uses locally available soya, maize and sorghum, making this plant-based version of RUTF approximately 20% more cost effective than the original peanut and milk powder based one. A shift towards this alternative would reduce cost and enable production using locally available ingredients, bringing it closer to those who need it most and ensuring more children in remote and hard-to-reach communities get treatment.

Given the scale of the current global food and malnutrition crisis, an innovation that reaches more children suffering from acute malnutrition is welcome. This reason alone is enough to warrant investment – but there are several other benefits, too. Being a local product will provide lower income countries the opportunity to benefit through job creation, boosting the local economy. There’s also a wider global climate impact benefit of moving towards plant-based RUTF. Producing RUTF locally could reduce the carbon footprint associated with importing these products by 78%. As the world struggles to reduce carbon emissions, using a plant-based product produced locally is a no-brainer.

It has always been thought that children suffering from acute malnutrition need a source of animal protein to recover (this coming from RUTF’s milk powder). New evidence has emerged showing that’s not actually the case, meaning that plant-based RUTF can be as effective in treating severe malnutrition as the standard RUTF recipe. In fact, further evidence shows that in some respects, plant-based RUTF is more effective in treating iron-deficiency, including anaemia.

Mother holds her child whilst they take RUTF

My colleague Anne Walsh who is well regarded in the nutrition sector had this to say about plant-based RUTF

I’ve spent many years in this sector and it’s not often I see a truly innovative product that gives me hope. Plant-based RUTF could be the key in ensuring millions more children are receiving the treatment they so desperately need. We need to work together to make sure no child suffers or dies needlessly from malnutrition.

Anne Walsh, Senior Nutrition Specialist at The Power of Nutrition.

Despite the evidence, there are still two main barriers in ramping up plant-based RUTF; investment and further research. Investment is needed to roll out this innovative product to add further weight to the evidence base, complying with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines and quality control for distribution.

Another fundamental reason plant-based RUTF hasn’t been put forward as an alternative sooner is largely down to awareness: people outside of the sector simply don’t know it exists. Simply put, The Power of Nutrition is urging more companies to embrace this innovative game-changer. We already know what a lifesaver RUTF has been for millions of children in the world, but when looking at this new, more effective alternative, we can’t continue with the status quo. Millions of more children around the world aren’t getting the help they so desperately need – plant-based RUTF provides a solution.

If you’re looking at your SDG commitments and supporting your ESG credentials in a truly meaningful and impactful way, please get in touch to learn more and explore ways in which we can support you to make a global impact in saving lives and improving economies. Contact me; Chris Grayson at

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