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Improving the bioavailability of nutrients in plant foods at the household level

  • Rosalind S. Gibson (a1), Leah Perlas and Christine Hotz

Plant foods are the major staples of diets in developing countries, in which the consumption of animal-source foods is often low because of economic and/or religious concerns. However, such plant-based diets are often associated with micronutrient deficits, exacerbated in part by poor micronutrient bioavailability. Diet-related factors in plant foods that affect bioavailability include: the chemical form of the nutrient in food and/or nature of the food matrix; interactions between nutrients and other organic components (e.g. phytate, polyphenols, dietary fibre, oxalic acid, protein, fat, ascorbic acid); pretreatment of food as a result of processing and/or preparation practices. Consequently, household strategies that reduce the content or counteract the inhibiting effects of these factors on micronutrient bioavailability are urgently needed in developing-country settings. Examples of such strategies include: germination, microbial fermentation or soaking to reduce the phytate and polyphenol content of unrefined cereal porridges used for young child feeding; addition of ascorbic acid-containing fruits to enhance non-haem-Fe absorption; heating to destroy heat-labile anti-nutritional factors (e.g. goitrogens, thiaminases) or disrupt carotenoid–protein complexes. Such strategies have been employed in both experimental isotope-absorption and community-based studies. Increases in Fe, Zn and Ca absorption have been reported in adults fed dephytinized cereals compared with cereals containing their native phytate. In community-based studies in rural Malawi improvements in dietary quality and arm-muscle area and reductions in the incidence of anaemia and common infections in young children have been observed.

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Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Professor R. S. Gibson, fax +64 3 479 7958, email
Present address: Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Department of Science and Technology, Bicutan, Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines
Present address: HarvestPlus, c/o International Food Policy Research Institute, 2003 K Street, NW, Washington DC 20006-1002, USA
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