Iron deficiency is one of the leading risk factors for disability and death worldwide, affecting an estimated 2 billion people. Nutritional iron deficiency arises when physiological requirements cannot be met by iron absorption from diet. Dietary iron bioavailability is low in populations consuming monotonous plant-based diets. The high prevalence of iron deficiency in the developing world has substantial health and economic costs, including poor pregnancy outcome, impaired school performance, and decreased productivity. Recent studies have reported how the body regulates iron absorption and metabolism in response to changing iron status by upregulation or downregulation of key intestinal and hepatic proteins. Targeted iron supplementation, iron fortification of foods, or both, can control iron deficiency in populations. Although technical challenges limit the amount of bioavailable iron compounds that can be used in food fortification, studies show that iron fortification can be an effective strategy against nutritional iron deficiency. Specific laboratory measures of iron status should be used to assess the need for fortification and to monitor these interventions. Selective plant breeding and genetic engineering are promising new approaches to improve dietary iron nutritional quality.