Background: Zinc deficiency (ZnD), measured using serum zinc (Zn) prevails in 66% of 20–54 year-old men in Malawi, and is higher than that of other demographic groups. We conducted this study to identify local plant and animal sources of Zn; to determine the frequency of intake of Zn-rich foods; and, to assess the bioavailability of Zn in the food sources.
Methods: We employed a descriptive cross-sectional study of 20–54 year-old men (n=101) who are residents of a rural area of Lilongwe district in central Malawi. Dietary assessment was done using a food frequency questionnaire and 24-hour dietary recall. Dietary adequacy was assessed using modified NutriSurvey 2007. Zinc bioavailability was estimated using Murphy’s model of algorithm based on FAO/WHO Zn bioavailability factors.
Results: Only 20.3% of the participants were knowledgeable of Zn, and mostly cited rice, cassava, sweet potato, milk and fish as sources of Zn. Degermed-dehulled hard porridge (locally called nsima) (53.5%), small fish (30.7%), mangoes (69.3%), groundnuts (20.8%), pumpkin leaves (65.3%) and sunflower oil (24.8%) were the most frequently consumed foods. Slightly over one third (36.6%) of the participants met the recommended dietary allowance for Zn (mean intake of 14.4±14 mg), but ˂1% consumed Zn that was bioavailable (mean 2.2±2.5 mg).
Conclusion: Habitual intake of plant-based diets with poorly bioavailable Zn was widespread among men in this rural population in Malawi, which led to inadequate dietary Zn intake. Food systems-based operational research should be conducted to understand barriers and facilitators of adequate intake of bioavailable Zn in rural areas of Malawi.