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Addressing Iron Deficiency with Fortification

Iron fortification can be a special challenge due to its taste and reactivity. Learn how options in bioavailability and microencapsulation can create successful iron-fortified foods and beverages that meet consumers' needs.

Whether you live an active lifestyle or you keep an active mind, many Americans still struggle to achieve an adequate intake of all the essential vitamins and minerals. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, this includes dietary fiber, vitamin D, as well as the minerals potassium, calcium, and iron.1 Iron fortification can be a special challenge due to its taste and reactivity. Learn how options in bioavailability and microencapsulation can create successful iron-fortified foods and beverages that meet consumers' needs.

Iron – A Nutrient of Concern

Of the vitamins and minerals identified as under-consumed by Americans, vitamin D, potassium, and calcium are also considered to be nutrients of public health concern due to the negative health impacts associated with their under consumption. Iron has also been identified as a nutrient of concern, but only for specific segments of the population, including young children, women of childbearing age, and pregnant women.

The primary health risk associated with an inadequate iron intake is iron deficiency anemia. Since iron is necessary to form hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body, a deficiency of iron can have a number of effects, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Heart palpitations

Iron also plays a role in immunity and wound healing. In children, sufficient iron is essential for proper growth and development as deficiencies have been linked to learning difficulties and stunting.

Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron

There are two main types of iron that we consume—heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is bound to hemoglobin and is better absorbed than non-heme iron. Meat contains both heme and non-heme iron, although most of the iron in meat is non-heme.

Plant-based foods and eggs contain only non-heme iron. Consuming vitamin C (ascorbic acid) with non-heme iron greatly increases its absorption. Calcium hinders the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron, which may be why high milk intake by children has been linked to iron deficiency.

Iron Naturally Present in Foods

Food sources that naturally contain heme iron include:

  • Red meats
  • Poultry
  • Seafood

Naturally rich sources of non-heme iron include: 

  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Baked potatoes
  • Pumpkin seeds 
  • Dried apricots
  • Eggs

Fortifying with Iron

Large-scale iron fortification in the U.S. began in the 1940s when the FDA established a standard of identity for enriched flour to help address nutrient deficiencies in the population. Today, there is a variety of products commonly fortified with iron, such as:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Breads
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Flour
  • Corn meal
  • Nutrition bars
  • Nutrition shakes
  • Infant formulas

In other parts of the world, there have even been pilot programs to test the benefits of using iron-fortified salt, sugar, curry powder, and soy sauce. 

mom and dad with two kids eating


Though the FDA mandates the nutrition labeling of iron, it doesn’t require disclosure of its bioavailability. But for a company seeking the best nutrition option for its consumers (like an iron source with high bioavailability), it’s important to be aware of trade-offs, such as reactivity, aftertaste, and cost. 

Ferric orthophosphate is an example of a commonly used iron source in fortification that is not as bioavailable or soluble as other options, but has much less reactivity and aftertaste.


Nutrient fortifications can easily impact flavor. Certain B vitamins have a bitter taste, whereas several minerals have a metallic taste. In addition, highly reactive nutrients like iron can trigger the oxidation of fats and produce off flavors and odors. Microencapsulation can mask a nutrient’s taste, as well as protect against reactions with moisture, oxygen, and other ingredients.

Microencapsulation is also a way to increase nutrient stability, reduce overages, and extend product shelf life. In addition, it improves a nutrient’s heat tolerance, which can be important in processing.

Formulating for Success

The global market for vitamin and mineral fortified products continues to grow. Globally, product launches with a vitamin/mineral fortification claims grew at a 15% CAGR between 2016 and 2020. 

Don’t miss this opportunity to make your product a healthy one by fortifying with the vitamins and minerals that consumers need. Through our custom premix solutions, micronutrients and Watson Functionally Optimized Nutrients, Glanbia Nutritionals can help you choose the right type of vitamin or mineral (or blend) to make your product a success!


1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, 9th Ed. (2020). Retrieved from 
2. Mintel, GNPD, accessed April 2021.

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