Iron deficiency (ID) is the most prevalent nutrient deficiency within the developed world. This is of concern as ID has been shown to affect immunity, thermoregulation, work performance and cognition. Animal flesh foods provide the richest and most bioavailable source of dietary (haem) iron, however, it is unclear whether low animal flesh diets contribute to ID. This systematic review aimed to investigate whether a higher consumption of animal flesh foods is associated with better iron status in adults. CINAHL, Cochrane, EMBASE and MEDLINE were searched for published studies that included adults (≥18 years) from developed countries and measured flesh intakes in relation to iron status indices. Eight experimental and 41 observational studies met the inclusion criteria. Generally, studies varied in population and study designs and results were conflicting. Of the seven high quality studies, five showed a positive association between animal flesh intake (85-300 g/day) and iron status. However, the optimum quantity or frequency of flesh intake required to maintain or achieve a healthy iron status remains unclear. Results show a promising relationship between animal flesh intake and iron status, however, additional longitudinal and experimental studies are required to confirm this relationship and determine optimal intakes to reduce ID development.
Keywords: adults; animal flesh; developed countries; iron status; systematic review.