Maria N. Garcıía-Casal, Ana C. Pereira, Irene Leets, José Ramírez, and Maria F. Quiroga
Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientı´ficas, Caracas 1020-A, Venezuela
Searching for economical, nonconventional sources of iron is important in underdeveloped countries to combat iron deficiency and anemia. Our objective was to study iron, vitamin C, and phytic acid composition and also iron bioavailability from 4 species of marine algae included in a rice-based meal. Marine algae (Ulva sp, Sargassum sp, Porphyra sp, and Gracilariopsis sp) were analyzed for monthly variations in iron and for ascorbic acid and phytic acid concentrations. A total of 96 subjects received rice-based meals containing the 4 species of marine algae in different proportions, raw or cooked. All meals contained radioactive iron. Absorption was evaluated by calculating the radioactive iron incorporation in subjects’ blood. Iron concentrations in algae were high and varied widely, depending on the species and time of year. The highest iron concentrations were found in Sargassum (157 mg/100 g) and Gracilariopsis (196 mg/100 g). Phytates were not detected in the algae and ascorbic acid concentration fluctuated between 38 µg/g dry weight (Ulva) and 362 µg/g dry weight (Sargassum). Algae significantly increased iron absorption in rice-based meals. Cooking did not affect iron absorption compared with raw algae. Results indicate that Ulva sp, Sargassum sp, Porphyra sp, and Gracilariopsis sp are good sources of ascorbic acid and bioavailable iron. The percentage of iron absorption was similar among all algae tested, although Sargassum sp resulted in the highest iron intake. Based on these results, and on the high reproduction rates of algae during certain seasons, promoting algae consumption in some countries could help to improve iron nutrition.