Atmit’s BYU Connection
What happens when you combine an infant specialist with a fortification scientist? You get a new and improved formula for Atmit. Atmit is a special porridge used to help people in developing nations where famine or chronic hunger are serious threats. Your generous donations continue to help people at home and abroad to live healthier, happier lives.
In late 2009, Dr. James W. Hansen was asked by LDS Welfare Services to help develop an improved formula for Atmit. Welfare Services was anxious to have a product that would provide the needed nutrition to the wide array of people receiving it. Someone at Welfare Services suggested Dr. Hansen work with BYU, and he began to collaborate with Dr. Michael L. Dunn. It was a perfect fit.
Dr. Hansen received training in endocrinology, pediatrics, and neonatology, worked for eight years at the National Institute of Health, and spent 22 years in infant nutritional research. Dr. Dunn, a Cornell-trained food scientist with broad experience in food fortification, had conducted extensive research in the nutritional and physical properties of humanitarian food aid supplied by the U.S. government for famine, drought, and disaster relief situations.
Together, Drs. Hansen and Dunn started work on an improved formula for Atmit. Their work shadowed recent guidelines published by the non-profit organization Sustain (www.sustaintech.org) in collaboration with several universities, as well as some existing World Health Organization recommendations. Their goal was to significantly increase the vitamin and mineral content of Atmit, and position it as a fortified supplementary food to help compensate for the shortfall in foods typically available for undernourished populations, and, in addition, supply a good amount of high quality protein and energy.
“We worked through the macro and micronutrient composition of the existing Atmit product,” said Dr. Dunn. “We kept the same macro formula in terms of oat flour (51 percent), non-fat dry milk (23 percent), and sugar (25 percent), but altered the vitamin and mineral premix dramatically. We added a few additional vitamins that weren’t in the old formula and then adjusted the levels of most of the original vitamins and minerals.”
The scientists then started making adjustments in the formula, realizing that many of the changes might dramatically affect the taste and stability of the product. They finally settled on a suitable vitamin and mineral premix and sent it to the BYU Food Sciences Laboratory for taste and stability testing. One of their primary concerns with stability was the addition of significantly higher levels of certain minerals—like copper and iron—which have the potential to react with and degrade many of the vitamins in Atmit and can also accelerate rancidity. They were delighted to find that the new formulation stood up well in stability testing.
“The Church wanted to make sure that the new formula would have a shelf life as good as the old formula did,” said Heidi Engstrom, quality assurance lab supervisor in the Food Science department at Brigham Young University. “So we evaluated the sensory and stability properties of the new formulation compared to the old, following a protocol proposed by Dr. Dunn and agreed upon by Elder Hansen.”
Heidi made two batches of Atmit—one with the old formula and one with the new formula, which contained more salt and the new vitamin/mineral premix). Each batch was portioned into samples and tested at four temperature levels ranging between minus 4 and plus 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The freezer samples were our control,” said Heidi. “Each time we pulled samples for evaluation we pulled one from the freezer for comparison. At such low temperatures the food does not degrade, so even after six months of testing the freezer samples were similar to fresh ones.”
Samples were evaluated frequently over a period of six months for color, texture, aroma, and flavor. In addition to sensory tests, vitamin A and C content was tested at the beginning and end of the test to track vitamin degradation over time. Those two vitamins were picked because they are the most susceptible to change during storage.
“Overall, we did not see significant differences between the current product and the new formulation,” said Heidi. “The vitamin A levels went down less than ten percent in the new formula after six months in ambient temperature. Vitamin C levels also stayed fairly high. More degradation in the new formula had been expected because it contained much higher levels of minerals that tend to degrade vitamins. All changes were considered acceptable. None of the results prompted a change in the formulation.”
“One of the advantages of this formulation is that it contains so much milk,” said Elder Hansen. “Milk is expensive, but it provides a very high quality of protein. It’s better than corn/soy blend and wheat/soy blend, which many other programs provide. It’s healthier—especially for babies or very young children.”
In 2010, 645,000 pounds of Atmit were shipped by LDS Charities to four countries. Depending upon the age and size of the children, that’s enough to feed 100,000 to 130,000 children for one month. The cost? Under $6 per child.Donate to BYU