Iron deficiency, a global health problem, impairs reproductive performance, cognitive development, and work capacity. One proposed strategy to address this problem is the improvement of dietary iron bioavailability. Knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of iron absorption is growing rapidly, with identification of mucosal iron transport and regulatory proteins. Both body iron status and dietary characteristics substantially influence iron absorption, with minimal interaction between these two factors. Iron availability can be regarded mainly as a characteristic of the diet, but comparisons between human studies of iron availability for absorption require normalization for the iron status of the subjects. The dietary characteristics that enhance or inhibit iron absorption from foods have been sensitively and quantitatively determined in human studies employing iron isotopes. People with low iron status can substantially increase their iron absorption from diets with moderate to high availability. But while iron supplementation and fortification trials can effectively increase blood indices of iron status, improvements in dietary availability alone have had minimal influence on such indices within several weeks or months. Plentiful, varied diets are the ultimate resolution to iron deficiency. Without these, more modest food-based approaches to human iron deficiency likely will need to be augmented by dietary iron fortification.