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Background of the Study

Hunger is currently the most important nutritional problem among young children in most countries of the world. It is a physiological condition felt due to lack of food and equally the main cause of malnutrition. Out of the 6.8 billion people of the world population, 925 million were undernourished in 2010, and nearly all of them were in the developing countries (FAO, 2012). This simply means that one in every seven that is 13.1% populations are hungry. Children are the most vulnerable and they suffer up to 160 days of illness yearly, among whom infants are the most affected. Malnutrition is the key factor behind at least half of the 10.9 million yearly infant mortality (Black, Morris and Bryce, 2008; FAO, 2012). Under nutrition has a detrimental effect on the growth and development of infants, particularly those within the age of complementary feeding. Consequences of inadequate intake of nutrients including protein in the diet of infants are many; growth retardation in linear or weight, late development, impairment of cognitive abilities, high rate of infectious diseases etc (Weaver 2003). Adequate nutrition is therefore fundamental to the development of each child’s full potential, otherwise after the child reaches two years of age, it becomes very difficult to reverse the damages that has occurred earlier (Olsen, 2000; Kreb and Hambidge 2007). The major challenge confronted by rural and urban poor mothers with their weaning infants is that of meeting their protein needs. This is because the homemade gruel from cereals such as maize, millet, sorghum, guinea corn etc and other carbohydrate rich food are inadequate to meet the nutritional need of the child. The instant formulaes which are tested and proven to be rich in nutrients are rather expensive and not usually affordable. Complementary feeding is appropriate when breastfeeding alone is insufficient to meet the infant’s complete nutrient requirement and when semi solids and liquids are needed along with breast milk (Nwamarah and Amadi, 2009). At such times, infants enter a particular vulnerable period due to ignorance of caregivers on the right choice of food (Beer and Berkow, 2000). UNCF (2003) identified poor feeding practices and/or shortage in food intake as the most serious factors responsible for malnutrition and illness among children in Nigeria. Researches reveal that wealthy mothers wean their infant with prepared weaning formulae and also add blended meat, fish and egg to their meals. Others employ addition of milk solids to combination of cereals. (Lutter and Dewey, 2003). These are first class proteins which are bioavailable (Weaver, 2003). For the low income earners, WHO (2008) recommended that home-made complementary foods adequate in nutrients be formulated from locally available and affordable food crops which suits the traditional food pattern of the locality from where they are grown. The search for low cost, nutritious and complementary infant diet is of great importance in the prevention of illness among children. In order to address this, dietary diversification using locally available food crops appears to be the most practical approach.

Moringa Oleifera , a rare  and underutilized plant claimed to have protein of high biological value may be useful as a source of low cost protein. It is claimed to provide all the essential amino acids and micro nutrients when they are eaten in sufficient amount (Fahay, 2005; Sofowara, 2006; Sheriff and Idu, 2011). It is identified as an essential component of optimal nutrition for infant and young children. It competes favourably with soybeans in essential amino acids (Haiwatha 2010). Its ability to bridged the gap between essential and non essential amino acid is profound. Moringa has been described as a food based, nutrient-densed remedy and a better alternative to commercial formulae. It is the “goldmine” waiting to be tapped and exploited. Its high nutritional value has been recommended in this 21st century to reduce infant mortality and protect the health of thousands of children around the world (Fuglie, 2001). Various researches done on Moringa reveals its high nutrient content, but there is dearth of knowledge on its protein bioavailability hence the need for this research.

1.1       Statement of Problem

In developing countries, weaning infants are especially vulnerable because complementary foods offered to them are often low in protein. Consequently, the prevalence of Protein Energy Malnutrition bites deep into the mainstream of infant population. Although mothers and caregivers alarmingly complain about lack of money as reason why their infants are not well fed on protein source yet the fact cannot be ruled out that lack of enough protein in the diet impairs the synthesis and absorption of all the essential amino acid. The challenge in improving the protein intake of infants is obvious. The search for low cost, nutritious and complementary foodstuff is of great importance in the prevention of this clinical syndrome even in Nigeria. In order to address this, dietary diversification using locally available food crops appears to be the most practical approach. Therefore, employment of some local resources as a means of solving the ongoing malnutrition maladies particularly for the very indigent living under impoverished condition is a necessary development.

Moringa oleifera leaves are underutilized and are rarely consumed due to lack of knowledge of their nutritional and health attributes. Many claims have been made on it curative and health development. Also many studies have been conducted on the efficacy of M. Oleifera.  However, there is a dearth n the subject of its haemapoitic potential as well as the bioavailability of its acclaimed protein value using wistar rats. The thrust of this research is thus to investigate on the bioavailability of protein in moringa leaf  to ascertain its functionality in curbing PEM related complications and improving the health status of individuals especially children.

1.3    Objective of the Study

The general objective of this study is to examine the bioavailability of Moringa leaf protein using biochemical indices. The specific objectives are as follows:

(i)                  To process Moringa oleifera leaves into powder.

(ii)                 To determine the proximate constituents of Moringa oleifera leaf powder.

(iii)                To established the presence of some antinutritional factors such as Hydrocyanic Acid, Oxalate, Phytate and Tannin.

(iv)               To formulate a pelletized feed with dried Moringa oleifera leaf as the sole protein source designed to provide 10 grams of protein per 100 grams of feed portion.

(v)                 To assess the effect of pelletized Moringa leaf feed on weight and physical appearance of the experimental rats.

(vi)             To evaluate the effect of pelletized Moringa oleifera leaf feed on hematological parameters: White Blood Cell Count (WBC), Red Blood Cell Count (RBC), Hemoglobin (HGB), Packed Cell Volume (PCV), Mean Corpuscular Count (MCV) Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin (MCH), Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin Concentration (MCHC), and Platelet Count (PLT) of albino wistar rats.

(vi)          To investigate the effect of pelletized Moringa oleifera leaf feed on protein indices namely: total protein, serum albumin and serum globulin in the wistar rats.

1.4       Research Hypotheses

(i)           The protein content in Moringa will be adequate to meet the protein need of weaning babies.

(ii)         There is no presence of antinutritional factor in Moringa leaves powder.

(iii)        There is a significant difference in physical appearance, weight and growth rate of rats fed with Moringa oleifera leaf meal and rats fed with other test diets.

(iv)       There are significant differences in haematological parameters of rats fed with Moringa oleifera leaf protein and that of other test diets.

(v)         There is a significant difference in total protein indices of rats fed with Moringa oleifera protein dietand those fed with other test diets.

1.5    Scope of the Study

The Scope of this study includes:

(i)                  Collection of fresh Moringa leaves, drying and macerating of the dried leaves into powder and subsequently formulating a pelletized diet with the moringa leafpowder.

(ii)                 Determination of proximate constituents of the dried leaf powder.

(iii)                Determination of antinutritional factors such as HCN, Oxalate, Phytate and Tannin.

(iv)               Formulation of some pelletized meal consisting of Moringa leaf powder as the sole protein source designed to provide 10 grams of protein per 100 grams of feed portion.

(v)                  Administration of the test diets to the experimental animals for 21 days.

(vi)               Extraction of the blood by cardiac puncture of the experimental rats, separation by centrifugation of the blood sample.

(vii)              Determination of the effect of the pellets on certain hematological parameter such as HGB, RBC, PVC, MCV,MCH,MCHC, WBC, and  PLT.

(viii)             Determination of the effect of the test diet on certain biochemical parameter such as total protein, albumin and globulin parameters.

1.6    Significance of the Study

This study will help to provide a broad based scientific knowledge on the bioavailability of the protein of Moringa leaf powder thus establishing the plant as a readily available and affordable dietary source for improving the protein status of individuals with a view to reducing or eliminating protein deficiency, thus decreasing child mortality rate which is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The result obtained from this study will be useful for the indigent group who cannot afford expensive source of protein. It will also benefit homemakers and the entire population as a means of food diversification in terms of protein source. By so doing, tangible contribution will be given to the transformation of our nation.

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