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J Nutr. 2006 Mar;136(3):576-81.

Meat consumption in a varied diet marginally influences nonheme iron absorption in normal individuals.

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Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University, Ames, 50011, USA.


It is widely recognized that the intake of animal foods is the most important dietary determinant of the iron status of a population. The primary reason is the high bioavailability of heme iron, but it is also known from radiolabeled single-meal feeding studies in humans that muscle tissue facilitates absorption of nonheme iron. In the present study, we examined the effect of meat intake on nonheme iron absorption from a whole diet. Iron absorption was measured during 3 separate dietary periods in 14 volunteers (7 men and 7 women) by having them ingest a radioiron-labeled wheat roll with every meal for 5 d. The diet was freely chosen for the first dietary period and altered to eliminate or maximally increase the intake of muscle foods during the second and third periods. Nonheme iron absorption did not differ for the 3 dietary periods although the geometric mean of 4.81% when subjects consumed a freely chosen diet increased by 35% to 6.47% with maximum meat consumption (P = 0.075). When nonheme absorption was adjusted to normalize for differences in iron status using serum ferritin correction and the 3 absorption periods were pooled, multiple regression analysis indicated no significant relation with heme or nonheme iron, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, fiber, or tea content of the diet with the exception of animal tissue (P = 0.013). We conclude that the higher iron status associated with the consumption of an omnivorous diet is due more to the intake of heme iron than to the enhancing effect on nonheme iron absorption.

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