Dietary iron bioavailability: A simple model that can be used to derive country-specific dietary reference values for adult men and women

Susan Fairweather-Tait, Cornelia Speich, Comian Evariste Mitchikpe, Jack Dainty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Reference intakes for iron are derived from physiological requirements, with an assumed value for dietary iron absorption. A new approach to estimate iron bioavailability, calculated from iron intake, status, and requirements was used to set European dietary reference values, but the values obtained cannot be used for low- and middle-income countries where diets are very different. Objective: We aimed to test the feasibility of using the model developed from United Kingdom and Irish data to derive a value for dietary iron bioavailability in an African country, using data collected from women of child-bearing age in Benin. We also compared the effect of using estimates of iron losses made in the 1960s with more recent data for whole body iron losses. Methods: Dietary iron intake and serum ferritin (SF), together with physiological requirements of iron, were entered into the predictive model to estimate percentage iron absorption from the diet at different levels of iron status. Results: The results obtained from the 2 different methods for calculating physiological iron requirements were similar, except at low SF concentrations. At a SF value of 30 µg/L predicted iron absorption from the African maize-based diet was 6%, compared with 18% from a Western diet, and it remained low until the SF fell below 25 µg/L. Conclusions: We used the model to estimate percentage dietary iron absorption in 30 Beninese women. The predicted values agreed with results from earlier single meal isotope studies; therefore, we conclude that the model has potential for estimating dietary iron bioavailability in men and nonpregnant women consuming different diets in other countries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-130
Number of pages10
JournalFood and Nutrition Bulletin
Issue number1
Early online date20 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2020


  • TOOL
  • ZINC
  • dietary iron bioavailability
  • dietary reference values
  • iron absorption
  • low-income countries

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