Iron Bioavailability Should be Considered when Modeling Omnivorous, Vegetarian, and Vegan Diets

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: To lower environmental impact of human food consumption, replacement of animal proteins with plant-based proteins is encouraged. However, the lower iron bioavailability of plant-based foods is rarely considered when designing healthy and sustainable diets by using diet modeling. The estimated absorbable iron content of vegetarian and vegan menu plans might therefore be too optimistic. Objective: The main aim of this study was to investigate and compare the impact of various methods to estimate absorbable iron intake on the nutritional adequacy of omnivorous, vegetarian, and vegan menu plans designed for women of reproductive age. Methods: A diet model was developed to design menu plans consisting of a selection of meals that best complied with nutritional requirements. Meals used for modeling were created based on food intake data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). For each meal, absorbable iron concentrations were estimated by using 2 constant absorption factors (18% and 10%) and 2 diet-dependent absorption equations (Conway and Hallberg). For each absorption method and diet type, we used the diet model to design the optimal menu plan. Retrospectively, menu plans were evaluated by estimating the absorbable iron content by using the other absorption methods. Results: Retrospective diet-dependent absorbable iron estimates were consistently lower than estimates based on constant absorption factors. Using diet-dependent estimates increased absorbable iron by optimizing enhancer and inhibitor concentrations. Conclusion: Iron bioavailability should be considered when modeling diets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2125-2132
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • diet optimization
  • goal programming
  • iron bioavailability
  • menu planning
  • mixed-integer linear programming
  • protein transition


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