Combatting iron deficiency anemia during early childhood typically involves using fortified cereal-based complementary foods.  Because of the nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and fiber) contained in whole grain flours, they are preferred over refined cereal flours.  However, whole grain flours also contain high amounts of phytic acid and polyphenols, which can inhibit iron absorption.  Therefore, identification of infant cereal types that optimize iron absorption is important in the fight against iron deficiency.  Uyoga and colleagues conducted a study to determine fractional iron absorption (FIA) from various cereals and published their results in the March 2022 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

Malawian children (6 to 14 month old) were enrolled in a prospective, single-blinded randomized crossover study to determine FIA from 5 test meals.  The children consumed 25 gram servings of the meals containing stable isotope labeled iron and 13.5 mg ascorbic acid.  The meals were prepared by adding ferrous fumarate to commercial cereals containing either refined wheat flour (reference cereal), whole grain wheat and lentil flour, whole grain wheat and chickpea flour, or whole grain oat flour.  In addition, FIA was also measured in the whole grain oat flour cereal to which ferrous bisglycinate had been added.

Two thirds of the children were iron deficient and 70% were anemic at the start of the trial.  Fractional iron absorption from the refined wheat flour reference cereal was 12.1%, but was somewhat higher for the whole grain wheat and lentil flour and the whole grain wheat and chickpea flour.  The whole grain oat flour cereal containing either ferrous fumarate or ferrous bisglycinate had somewhat lower FIA rates than the reference cereal.  As a result, the whole grain wheat and lentil flour as well as the whole grain wheat and chickpea flour cereals led to higher FIA rates than those resulting from either of the whole grain oat flours.  The authors concluded that inclusion of ascorbic acid led to higher iron bioavailability from whole grain wheat and pulse cereals fortified with ferrous fumarate (~13-15%) than iron bioavailability resulting from whole grain oat cereals (~7-9%) containing either form of iron fortification.


Mary A Uyoga, Glory Mzembe, Nicole U Stoffel, Diego Moretti, Christophe Zeder, Kamija Phiri, Magalie Sabatier, Nicholas P Hays, Michael B Zimmermann, Martin N Mwangi, Iron Bioavailability from Infant Cereals Containing Whole Grains and Pulses: A Stable Isotope Study in Malawian Children, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 152, Issue 3, March 2022, Pages 826–834,

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