Therapeutic food

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Therapeutic food
Packets of ready-to-use therapeutic food
Trade namesPlumpy'Nut, Nutribun, others
Other namesReady to use therapeutic food (RUTF)
Clinical data
Main usesMalnutrition[1]
Routes of
By mouth
Typical dose150-220 kcal/kg/day[2]

Therapeutic food, sold under the brand name Plumpy'Nut among others, is food primarily used for severe acute malnutrition in children 6 month to 5 years of age.[3][4][5] It may also be used in adults with malnutrition.[5] It comes as a paste or biscuit and can be eaten as is.[1][4] Use can often take place at home.[4] It is effective in more than 90% of cases.[6]

Each package contains about 500 calories along with micronutrients.[7][4] The typical recommended dose in children is 150-220 kcal/kg/day until recovery.[2] It is typically made from peanuts, sugar, milk powder, oil, vitamins, and minerals.[4][5] Other possible ingredients include chickpeas or soybeans.[2] vitamins A, D, and E are at higher then usually recommended levels to address potential deficiencies.[2] Contamination by Salmonella and aflatoxin should be prevented.[2]

Therapeutic food was developed in the late 1990s by André Briend with commercial distribution starting in the 2000s.[7] It was given to more than 5 million children in 2022 and has prevented million of deaths.[2][7][4] UNICEF distributes more than 75% of therapeutic food, with others involved including Ministries of Health and other non-governmental organizations.[4][5] It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines.[8] The cost of 150 units of 92 grams is about 40 to 60 USD as of 2022.[9] It can keep for at least two years and dose not require refrigeration.[4][5]

Medical uses

Dietary method

The standard treatment of childhood malnutrition is administered in two phases.[10] Phase one usually deals with children who are severely malnourished and very ill as a result. The therapy used in this phase is F-75, a milk-based liquid food containing modest amounts of energy and protein (75 kcal/100 mL and 0.9 g protein/100 mL) and the administration of parenteral antibiotics.[11] When an improvement in the child's appetite and clinical condition is observed, the child is entered into phase two of the treatment. This phase uses F-100. F-100 is a "specially formulated, high-energy, high-protein (100 kcal/100 mL, 2.9 g protein/100 mL) milk-based liquid food".[11] The child is in phase two until he/she is no longer wasted [weight-for-height z score (WHZ) 2].[11] Phase two starts while the child is at the hospital but is usually completed after the child goes home. The parent is then responsible for feeding the child a flour supplement made of cereal and legumes as a replacement for the milk-based foods used in phases one and two.[11]

The World Health Organization's standards for the treatment of malnutrition in children specify the use of two formulas during initial treatment, F-75 and F-100. These formulas contain a mixture of powdered milk, sugar, and other ingredients designed to provide an easily absorbed mix of carbohydrates and essential micronutrients. They are generally provided as powdered mixes which are reconstituted with water. The WHO recommends the use of these formulas, with the gradual introduction of other foods, until the child approaches a normal weight.[10]


Ready to use therapeutic food within the person's own home for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in children under five years of age may be effective at improving weight gain and recovery when compared to alternative dietary approaches.[12] The effectiveness of ready to use therapeutic food on potential relapses or on overall mortality is not clear.[12]

As of 2013, Plumpy'Nut had been used to relieve malnutrition in thousands of African children, gaining approval as a therapeutic food from the World Health Organization.[13]


An example of the composition of a RUTF
Nutrition composition
Moisture content 2.5% maximum
Energy 520-550 Kcal/100 g
Proteins 10 to 12% total energy
Lipids 45 to 60% total energy
Sodium 290 mg/100 g maximum
Potassium 1100 to 1400 mg/100 g
Calcium 300 to 600 mg/100 g
Phosphorus (excluding phytate) 300 to 600 mg/100 g
Magnesium 80 to 140 mg/100 g
Iron 10 to 14 mg/100 g
Zinc 11 to 14 mg/100 g
Copper 1.4 to 1.8 mg/100 g
Selenium 20 to 40 μg
Iodine 70 to 140 μg/100 g
Vitamin A 0.8 to 1.1 mg/100 g
Vitamin D 15 to 20 μg/100 g
Vitamin E 20 mg/100 g minimum
Vitamin K 15 to 30 μg/100 g
Vitamin B1 0.5 mg/100 g minimum
Vitamin B2 1.6 mg/100 g minimum
Vitamin C 50 mg/100 g minimum
Vitamin B6 0.6 mg/100 g minimum
Vitamin B12 1.6 μg/100 g minimum
Folic acid 200 μg/100 g minimum
Niacin 5 mg/100 g minimum
Pantothenic acid 3 mg/100 g minimum
Biotin 60 μg/100 g minimum
n-6 fatty acids 3% to 10% of total energy
n-3 fatty acids 0.3 to 2.5% of total energy

Therapeutic foods are usually made of a mixture of protein, carbohydrate, lipid and vitamins and minerals. Therapeutic foods are usually produced by grinding all ingredients together and mixing them. "The mixing process allows for the protein and carbohydrate components of the food to be embedded in the lipid matrix.[14] The size of the particles in the mixture has to be less than 200 μm for the mixture to maintain its consistency.[14] Using this method, the therapeutic food is produced and packaged without using water, which would eliminate the issue of spoilage. Some therapeutic foods require the addition of water before administering, while others can be consumed as-is. Therapeutic foods are designed and manufactured to ensure that they are ready to eat straight from the packaging. Those foods resist bacterial contamination and require no cooking.[14]

A subset of therapeutic foods, ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs), are energy-dense, micronutrient-enriched pastes that have a nutritional profile similar to the traditional F-100 milk-based diet used in inpatient therapeutic feeding programs and are often made of peanuts, oil, sugar and milk powder.[15]

RUTFs are a "homogeneous mixture of lipid-rich and water-soluble foods."[14] The lipids used in formulating RUTFs are in a viscous liquid form. The other ingredients are in small particles and are mixed through the lipid. The other ingredients are protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. The mixture needs to be homogeneous for it to be effectively consumed. To do this, a specific mixing process is needed.[14] The fat/lipid component of the RUTF is heated and stirred first. The heat should be maintained for the lipid to remain in the optimum form for mixing in the other ingredients. The powdered protein, carbohydrate, and vitamins and minerals are then slowly and gradually added to the lipid, while the lipid is being vigorously stirred. After all the ingredients are added and vigorous stirring is maintained, the mixture is then stirred with more speed and for several minutes.[14] If the powdered ingredients have a particle size that is larger than 200 μm, the mixture starts to separate; the particle size needs to be maintained at less than 200 μm.[14]

The most common RUTFs are made of four ingredients: sugar, dried skimmed milk, oil, and vitamin and mineral supplement (CMV). Other qualities that RUTFs should have included a texture that is soft or crushable and a taste that is acceptable and suitable for young children. RUTFs should be ready to eat without needing to be cooked. A very important characteristic is that the RUTFs have a long shelf-life and that they are micro-organism contamination resistant, without the need for expensive packaging. Since the ingredients need to be suspended in liquid, the liquid used in producing RUTFs needs to be fat/lipid. 50% of the protein forming RUTFs should come from dairy products.

UNICEF specifications for RUTFs say that the vitamin and mineral premix must be sourced from one of the following vendors authorized by the World Food Program: DSM Nutrition/Fortitech, Nicholas Piramal Healthcare Ltd (now Piramal Group), Hexagon Nutrition, BASF (SternVitamin), and the GAIN premix facility.[16]

RUTFs are used by UNICEF Kid Power malnutrition program, which uses celebrities to go on "global missions" to help save impoverished areas in Africa.[17]



  1. 1.0 1.1 "Ready to use therapeutic food". Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 15 September 2023.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Application for inclusion of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (EML) and Model List of Essential Medicines for Children (EMLc)" (PDF). WHO. 2022. Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  3. "eEML - Electronic Essential Medicines List". Archived from the original on 22 September 2023. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 "A wonder 'food' for the world's children | UNICEF". Archived from the original on 25 November 2023. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Ready to use therapeutic Food paste - Standard products catalogue IFRC ICRC". Archived from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  6. "Malnutrition | MSF medical response". Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International. Archived from the original on 30 November 2023. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Saving lives with RUTF (ready-to-use therapeutic food) | UNICEF Supply Division". Archived from the original on 7 October 2023. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  8. World Health Organization (2023). The selection and use of essential medicines 2023: web annex A: World Health Organization model list of essential medicines: 23rd list (2023). Geneva: World Health Organization. hdl:10665/371090. WHO/MHP/HPS/EML/2023.02.
  9. "Ready-to-use-therapeutic-food-price-data-2003-2022" (PDF). UNICEF. Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 December 2023. Retrieved 7 December 2023.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Management of Severe Malnutrition: A Manual for Physicians and Other Senior Health Workers" (PDF). World Health Organization. 1999. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 March 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Ciliberto, M. A.; Sandige, H; Ndekha, M. J.; Ashorn, P; Briend, A; Ciliberto, H. M.; Manary, M. J. (2005). "Comparison of home-based therapy with ready-to-use therapeutic food with standard therapy in the treatment of malnourished Malawian children: A controlled, clinical effectiveness trial". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 81 (4): 864–70. doi:10.1093/ajcn/81.4.864. PMID 15817865. Archived from the original on 2017-03-31. Retrieved 2022-10-31.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Schoonees, Anel; Lombard, Martani J.; Musekiwa, Alfred; Nel, Etienne; Volmink, Jimmy (2019). "Ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) for home-based nutritional rehabilitation of severe acute malnutrition in children from six months to five years of age". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 5: CD009000. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009000.pub3. ISSN 1469-493X. PMC 6537457. PMID 31090070.
  13. Morrison SR (24 August 2013). "Plumpy'Nut: The lifesaver that costs... well, peanuts". The Independent. Archived from the original on 7 May 2022. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 Manary, M. J. (2006). "Local production and provision of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) spread for the treatment of severe childhood malnutrition". Food and Nutrition Bulletin. 27 (3 Suppl): S83–9. doi:10.1177/15648265060273S305. PMID 17076214. S2CID 25350128.
  15. Isanaka, S; Nombela, N; Djibo, A; Poupard, M; Van Beckhoven, D; Gaboulaud, V; Guerin, P. J.; Grais, R. F. (2009). "Effect of preventive supplementation with ready-to-use-therapeutic food on the nutritional status, mortality and morbidity of children 6 to 60 months in Niger: A cluster randomized trial". JAMA. 301 (3): 277–285. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.1018. PMC 3144630. PMID 19155454.
  16. Caron, Odile (12 September 2013). "RUTF Product Specifications" (PDF). UNICEF. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 July 2018. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  17. "How Lifesaving Therapeutic Food is Made". United States Fund for UNICEF, New York. 20 November 2016. Archived from the original on 15 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017.

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