We investigated the effect of calcium on iron absorption in 126 human subjects. Addition of calcium chloride to wheat rolls significantly reduced iron absorption. Doses between 40 and 600 mg Ca were studied. The inhibition was clearly dose related up to 300 mg Ca. Calcium added to the dough when making the rolls reduced phytate degradation during fermentation and baking. As little as 40 mg Ca added to 80 g flour reduced phytate degradation by 50%, thus increasing the phytate content of the rolls to levels interfering with iron absorption. Calcium also had a direct dose-related inhibiting effect on iron absorption, noted by adding calcium to the rolls after they had been baked instead of to the dough. Iron absorption was reduced by 50-60% at doses of 300-600 mg Ca. Giving 165 mg Ca as milk, cheese, or calcium chloride reduced absorption by 50-60%. The same amount of calcium also significantly reduced heme-iron absorption, suggesting that the effect of calcium is related to the mucosal transfer of iron. The observed marked inhibitory effect on iron absorption of calcium in amounts frequently encountered in normal meals has important nutritional implications.