Status And Future Developments Involving Plant Iron In Animal And Human Nutrition

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MARTA VASCONCELOS and MICHAEL A. GRUSAK

US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Children's Nutrition Research Center, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA. E-mail: [email protected]

Abstract: Iron is an essential nutrient for humans and other animals, and must be consumed in adequate amounts to ensure proper growth and development, as well as good health of the organism. Dietary sources of iron can be divided into two types: non-heme iron, mostly provided by plant foods, and heme iron, present in animal foods. Heme iron intake is usually low for the majority of humans in many developing countries because of the high cost of animal products or due to cultural constraints concerning these foods. Heme iron intake also is low in most livestock, whose major source of dietary iron comes from forages and cereal crops. For these reasons, both humans and animals rely on plants as an important source of dietary iron. However, the iron concentration of plant foods varies greatly, and low concentrations in some common food sources make it difficult for humans and animals to meet daily dietary requirements when these foods are consumed in suggested amounts. Additionally, certain food components, such as phytate or tannins, can lower the bioavailablity of the iron that is in plant foods, thereby lowering its effective concentration even more. In order to improve the iron nutritional value of crop plants and consequently to improve human and animal health, several strategies are being utilized by plant scientists. These include: cultivar evaluation, plant breeding and marker-assisted selection, alteration of pathways of iron metabolism, and modification of iron bioavailability. In this review, we present the role that plant iron plays in the diets of humans and other animals, and discuss the strategies that can be employed to improve our plant-based food supply.

Key words: animal; bioavailability; human; iron; nutrition

L. L. Barton and J. Abadía (eds.), Iron Nutrition in Plants and Rhizospheric Microorganisms, 1-22. © 2006 Springer. Printed in the Netherlands.

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