Peanuts, aflatoxins and undernutrition in children in Sub-Saharan Africa

13 Apr 2018

Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) is an important and affordable source of protein in most of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and a popular commodity and raw material for peanut butter, paste and cooking oil. It is a popular ingredient for foods used at the point of weaning infants from mother?s milk. It is at this critical point that childhood undernutrition occurs and the condition manifests as stunting, wasting and growth restriction and accounts for nearly half of all deaths in children under five years of age in SSA. Undernutrition is multi-factorial but weaning foods contaminated with microbiological agents (bacteria and fungi) and natural toxins have been shown to play a big part. While peanuts may provide good nutrition, they are also highly prone to contamination with mycotoxigenic fungi. The high nutritive value of peanuts makes them a perfect substrate for fungal growth and potential aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxins are highly carcinogenic and mutagenic mycotoxins. This article reviews the nutritional value and aflatoxin contamination of peanuts, the role they play in the development of childhood malnutrition (including the different theories of aetiology) and immunological problems in children. We also discuss the control strategies that have been explored and advocacy work currently taking shape in Africa to create more awareness of aflatoxins and thus combat their occurrence with the goal of reducing exposure and enhancing trade and food safety.