Magic mash: reducing child malnutrition with sweet potatoes. A project to introduce orange-fleshed Vitamin-A-rich sweet potatoes to sub-Saharan Africa can improve child health. But can local eating habits be changed?

by Ian Low

Orange-fleshed sweet potato is high in beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A in the body. In sub-Saharan Africa most locally grown varieties are white-fleshed, hence no beta-carotene, and people, as yet, still prefer the white-fleshed varieties. Photograph: Felicity Cloake

Bright orange sweet potato mash with a slab of butter melting slowly on top is a familiar sight on Thanksgiving feast tables across north America. Not only delicious, the vegetable is increasingly recognised as a nutritional powerhouse. The intense colour means there is lots of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. One small root provides the daily vitamin A needs for a child under five years of age. Sweet potato came out as the most nutritious food in an evaluation of 58 superfood vegetables by the US’s Centre for Science in the Public Interest.