Implications of phytate in plant-based foods for iron and zinc bioavailability, setting dietary requirements, and formulating programs and policies

Nutr Rev. 2018 Nov 1;76(11):793-804. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuy028.


Plant-based diets in low-income countries (LICs) have a high content of phytic acid (myo-inositol hexaphosphate [InsP6]) and associated magnesium, potassium, and calcium salts. Together, InsP6 acid and its salts are termed "phytate" and are potent inhibitors of iron and zinc absorption. Traditional food processing can reduce the InsP6 content through loss of water-soluble phytate or through phytase hydrolysis to lower myo-inositol phosphate forms that no longer inhibit iron and zinc absorption. Hence, some processing practices can reduce the need for high-dose iron fortificants in plant-based diets and alleviate safety concerns. Dietary phytate-to-iron and phytate-to-zinc molar ratios are used to estimate iron and zinc bioavailability and to identify dietary iron and zinc requirements according to diet type. The European Food Safety Authority has set adult dietary zinc requirements for 4 levels of phytate intake, highlighting the urgent need for phytate food composition data. Such data will improve the ability to estimate the prevalence of inadequate zinc intakes in vulnerable groups in LICs, which will facilitate implementation of targeted policies to alleviate zinc deficiency.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Availability
  • Developing Countries
  • Diet / methods
  • Female
  • Food Handling
  • Humans
  • Iron, Dietary / pharmacokinetics*
  • Male
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Requirements / drug effects*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Phytic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Edible / chemistry*
  • Zinc / pharmacokinetics*


  • Iron, Dietary
  • Phytic Acid
  • Zinc