Approaches used to estimate bioavailability when deriving dietary reference values for iron and zinc in adults

Susan J Fairweather-Tait, Agnès de Sesmaisons

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This review aims to describe approaches used to estimate bioavailability when deriving dietary reference values (DRV) for iron and zinc using the factorial approach. Various values have been applied by different expert bodies to convert absorbed iron or zinc into dietary intakes, and these are summarised in this review. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) derived zinc requirements from a trivariate saturation response model describing the relationship between zinc absorption and dietary zinc and phytate. The average requirement for men and women was determined as the intercept of the total absorbed zinc needed to meet physiological requirements, calculated according to body weight, with phytate intake levels of 300, 600, 900 and 1200 mg/d, which are representative of mean/median intakes observed in European populations. For iron, the method employed by EFSA was to use whole body iron losses, determined from radioisotope dilution studies, to calculate the quantity of absorbed iron required to maintain null balance. Absorption from the diet was estimated from a probability model based on measures of iron intake and status and physiological requirements for absorbed iron. Average dietary requirements were derived for men and pre- and post-menopausal women. Taking into consideration the complexity of deriving DRV for iron and zinc, mainly due to the limited knowledge on dietary bioavailability, it appears that EFSA has made maximum use of the most relevant up-to-date data to develop novel and transparent DRV for these nutrients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-33
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number1
Early online date27 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • bioavailability
  • dietary reference values
  • iron
  • zinc

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