Dietary Diversification and Modification

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Dietary diversification and modification, which can include home gardening, food processing techniques, reducing consumption of foods that inhibit non-heme iron absorption, and increasing consumption of foods that enhance non-heme iron absorption, serve as methods to increase dietary intake and bioavailability of iron (Table 22.5) [62, 63]. Nutrition education about home gardening of micronutrient-rich foods, and drying of meats and fish, for example, can potentially improve micronutrient content of the diet. Increasing iron-rich flesh food consumption serves as an ideal dietary solution to improving iron intake; however, flesh foods are expensive and certain cultural or religious beliefs might preclude the intake of these foods [63]. Iron in food exists in two forms: non-heme iron and heme iron. Plant foods and dairy products contain non-heme iron and flesh foods, such as meat and fish, contain heme iron, which is much more bioavailable than non-heme

Table 22.5

Inhibitors and Enhancers of Non-Heme Iron Absorption

Inhibitors of iron absorption


Legumes such as black beans, lentils and soybeans, peanuts, and foods containing grains such as whole wheat bread and corn tortillas Polyphenols

Tea, coffee, certain fruits and vegetables Fiber and bran

Whole grain foods such as whole wheat flour Calcium

Enhancers of iron absorption

Ascorbic acid

Citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons Meat

Meat, fish, or Poultry iron. Efficiency of heme iron absorption is approximately two to three times greater than that of non-heme iron [63]. Many plant-based foods such as legumes and cereals contain high levels of phytates, which can inhibit dietary non-heme iron absorption. Certain food processing techniques such as fermentation and germination can reduce the phytate concentration in foods, and thereby improve the bioavailability of non-heme dietary iron. A variety of foods enhance or decrease the bioavailability of dietary non-heme iron; for example, vitamin C-rich foods or drinks and meat increase the bioavailability of non-heme iron, whereas phytate-rich foods and tannin-containing foods or drinks decrease bioavailability of non-heme iron (Table 22.5). Education about foods that enhance and inhibit iron absorption could potentially improve the bioavailability of dietary iron.

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