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

Proc Nutr Soc. 2006 May;65(2):160-8. doi: 10.1079/pns2006489.


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.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Availability
  • Developing Countries*
  • Food Handling / methods*
  • Food Supply
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Malawi
  • Micronutrients / analysis
  • Micronutrients / pharmacokinetics*
  • Phytic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Phytic Acid / adverse effects
  • Plants, Edible* / chemistry


  • Micronutrients
  • Phytic Acid