Peanut butter: It’s a staple of childhood sandwiches—and a nightmare for parents whose kids have nut allergies. Now it might also be a cure for hunger in sub-Saharan Africa. Or so say scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. These researchers have used a nutrient-rich paste made from peanuts, powdered milk, oil and sugar—spiked with added vitamins and minerals—to combat starvation in thousands of children in Malawi. Nearly three-quarters of the kids there are malnourished, and more than 10 percent die from it before the age of 5.
The scientists enlisted village health aides to identify those who needed help. Of the 2,000 severely malnourished children who were given the peanut paste, 89% recovered. That’s far better than the 50% recovery rate seen in starving kids who are treated with a porridge made of corn or milk. Probably because peanut butter is packed with protein and calories. A hungry child would have to eat 25 spoonfuls of porridge to equal the calories in just one glop of peanut paste. Best of all, the peanut butter is produced locally, does not require cooking and can be administered by doctor mom.