THE BIGGER PICTURE
Waller and colleagues, at the University of Illinois have developed an affordable, reliable paper-based method to detect iron levels in food products (4). The research, published in the journal of Nutrients, describes a colorimetric paper-based method, which when combined with specialized phone app (also developed at the University of Illinois), can give accurate estimates of iron levels in the various foods tested.
Food-fortification programs in low-income countries have been at the forefront of fighting malnutrition, with iron deficiency a primary target in this battle. Affordable quality control tools to assess the nutritional value of fortified foods, such as the one developed by the Illinois team, could help advance this cause.
Contributed by Prof Samira Lakhal-Littleton, Department of Physiology, Anatomy & GeneticsUniversity of Oxford
COMMENT by Ioav Cabantchik
A comment on “New Method for quantitation of food iron content- another tool in the fight against malnutrition? THE BIGGER PICTURE”.
The advent of new smartphone applications in Analytica (industrial, clinical and scientific research) is rapidly increasing and important to follow by both professionals (clinical nutritionists, researchers, etc) and the general public. The new application for analyzing iron content in food sources and supplements is equally welcome, although iron in animal and plant sources has been one of the most studied and publicized (in professional and public media) for many years in terms of content and RDA values. The story of spinach as an “ironic” nutritional source has recently been addressed in Bioiron Forum (section “Interesting”) and more is upcoming.
While “Affordable quality control tools to assess the nutritional value of fortified foods, such as the one developed by the Illinois team, could help advance this cause” (as posted in Bioiron Forum), we must also caution that the real problem of edible iron sources is not merely “content” (that in most countries is mandatory to indicate in food labels) but “limited nutritional bioavailability”. That problem pertains not only to green vegetables like spinach (due to oxalates), legumes and nuts (due to phytic acid and other polyphosphates) but to iron salts (inorganic and organic) given as supplements, alone or in combination with vitamins and polyphenols (some potent iron chelators).
On the positive side, the new application could help labs and field studies to create and/or improve crops enriched in iron or identifying new edible iron-rich sources in plants. However, the ultimate (if not sole) nutritional test remains how to assess nutritional efficacy in terms of bioavailability, and it is here where we still need reliable analytical applications (hopefully non-invasive, as for blood glucose GlucoWise™).