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New peanut butter fighting Vitamin A deficiencies

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Scientists have developed a new, vitamin-fortified peanut butter in an effort to reduce Vitamin A deficiency cases worldwide.

"Vitamin A deficiency causes eye problems and even blindness in countries like the Philippines and other parts of the world," said Anna Resurreccion, a food scientist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. She and scientists in the Philippines developed the new product.

The peanut butter project was funded by UGA and the United States Agency for International Development's Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program.

Served in Filipino homes

The new peanut butter has been on store shelves in the Philippines for almost a year now. It's made by Lily's, a 50-year-old company that makes a third of the peanut butter bought in the Philippines.

"We agreed to pilot the project in the Philippines and allow the technology to be used solely by Lily's for a year," Resurreccion said. "Now that time is almost up. We're scheduling seminars in May so we can share the technology with other food manufacturers in the Philippines and other countries."

Resurreccion said most vitamin-fortified foods are staples like bread, rice or salt. "We used peanut butter," she said, "because it's very well liked and enjoyed equally by all populations -- those who are affluent and those who are needy."

Putting the needed vitamin in peanut butter is a good way to provide its health benefits throughout the country, she said. And unlike the peanut butters on U.S. grocery shelves, the vitamin-fortified peanut butter isn't a choice.

"The Vitamin A is in all of the Lily's brand peanut butter," Resurreccion said. "And it doesn't raise the price, either."

Resurreccion is very familiar with Lily's peanut butter. She grew up in the Philippines and ate Lily's peanut butter as a child.

Next formula will fight cancer, heart disease

Now she's working on another peanut butter formulation that includes compounds known to fight cancer and heart disease.

"The compound is resveratrol, which has been found in wine, grapes and peanuts," she said. "It's claimed to be the reason for the 'French paradox' or the low incidence of cardiovascular disease in the French population."

Resurreccion and her UGA colleagues are enhancing the peanut kernels' production of resveratrol.

"This peanut butter will be especially attractive to children and other groups who don't or can't drink red wine to get the benefits of resveratrol," she said.

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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