Stable Iron Isotope Studies in Rwandese Women Indicate That the Common Bean Has Limited Potential as a Vehicle for Iron Biofortification1,2

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Biofortification of plants is a new approach to combat iron deficiency. Common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) can be bred with a higher iron concentration but are rich in iron absorption inhibitors, phytic acid (PA), and polyphenols (PP). To evaluate the potential of beans to combat iron deficiency, three iron absorption studies were carried out in 61 Rwandese women with low iron status. Studies 1 and 2 compared iron absorption from high and low PP beans, similar in PA and iron, fed as bean puree in a double meal design or with rice and potatoes as multiple meals. Study 3 compared iron absorption from high and normal iron beans with similar PP levels and a PA:iron molar ratio, fed with potatoes or rice in multiple meals. Iron absorption was measured as erythrocyte incorporation of stable iron isotopes. In study 1, iron absorption from the high PP bean (3.4%) was 27% lower [P< 0.01) than from low PP bean (4.7%), but when fed in multiple meals (study 2), there was no difference (7 and 7.4%, respectively; P > 0.05). In study 3, iron absorption from the high iron bean (3.8%) was 40% lower (P < 0.001) than from the normal iron bean (6.3%), resulting in equal amounts of iron absorbed. When beans were combined with other meal components in multiple meals, high PP concentration had no negative impact on iron absorption. However, the quantity of iron absorbed from composite meals with high iron beans was no higher than with normal iron beans, indicating that efficacious iron biofortification may be difficult to achieve in beans rich in PA and PP.

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