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Fortitude of Iron in Cereals
By Rosalie Marion
May 22, 2003
To address the problem of dietary iron
deficiency, food producers enrich flour, maize and rice with iron and fortify
breakfast cereals with this essential mineral. Yet there is little research on
the absorption and utilization--also called bioavailability--of the various
iron sources used to fortify foods today.
Agricultural Research Service
scientists at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center (GFHNRC), Grand Forks, N.D., are
working with Washington, D.C.-based
SUSTAIN, to evaluate the
bioavailability of "elemental iron powders" that are commonly used in
food products such as ready-to-eat cereals. ARS is the chief scientific
research agency of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture. SUSTAIN is a nonprofit group dedicated to improving nutrition.
For several decades, these powders have been the product of choice for
boosting the iron content in breakfast cereals. As food fortifiers, they are
relatively inexpensive and do not compromise product flavor, color or shelf
life. But the powders are produced through several different methods. Each
method yields a product with distinct physical properties that, in turn, affect
each product's nutritional bioavailability.
As a gauge for comparing the most commonly used iron powders, the
researchers are using a soluble form of iron known to be highly bioavailable.
Preliminary studies, led by nutritionist Janet Ross Hunt, head of the GFHNRC's
Mineral Nutrient Utilization group, revealed considerable differences between
the iron powders, with some only 20-25 percent as bioavailable as the highly
absorbed iron that served as the standard.
The preliminary study helped the scientists choose which powders to study
further in humans. The team's next study, involving female volunteers, will
test two of the powders against a placebo and the iron used as standard. The
research will provide new information on the efficacy of elemental iron powders
for improving iron status in humans.
Read more about this in the
May issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.