European Journal of Nutrition

, Volume 46, Issue 8, pp 439–445 | Cite as

The impact of a meat- versus a vegetable-based diet on iron status in women of childbearing age with small iron stores

  • Inge Tetens
  • Karen M. Bendtsen
  • Marianne Henriksen
  • Annette K. Ersbøll
  • Nils Milman



Single-meal and short-term studies have shown an enhancing effect of meat on iron absorption, but there are few interventions of longer duration comprising measurements of biomarkers of iron status.

Aims of the study

To assess the impact of a meat-based and a vegetable-based diet on iron status of women of childbearing age.


For 20 weeks, 57 women aged 19–39 years with low iron stores (serum ferritin ≤30 μg/l and haemoglobin ≥120 g/l) consumed either a meat-based or a vegetable-based diet. Haemoglobin and serum ferritin concentrations were measured at baseline, after 10 and 20 weeks. Information about dietary intake before and during intervention, meat/fish intake, menstruation and contraceptive methods were recorded.


The women who consumed the meat-based diet had a significantly (P < 0.001) higher intake of meat/fish, 152 (147–168) g/day (median (Q1–Q3)) compared to the women consuming the vegetable-based diet 31 (24–36) g/day, while the total iron intake was similar in the two groups (mean ± SE) 11.0 ± 0.5 and 12.3 ± 0.3/day mg/day, respectively. Serum ferritin remained unchanged in women on the meat-based diet (n = 29)(before intervention (median (Q1–Q3)): 16.3 (12.7–25.3) μg/l and after intervention: 16.5 (10.3–25.3) μg/l, but declined from 17.3 (10.9–23.7) to 11.2 (8.8–14.6) μg/l (P < 0.001) in women on the vegetable-based diet (n = 28).


Our results emphasize the importance of the delicate balance between dietary iron content and iron bioavailability for the maintenance of blood indicators of iron stores in women with initially low iron status.

Key words

bioavailability haemoglobin serum ferritin meat-factor 



We thank Hanne Lysdal Petersen and Vivian Anker for technical assistance with the blood samples and the laboratory analyses, and Susanne Jensen, Lotte Ziersen, Berit Hoielt and Hanne Jensen for managing volunteer recruitment, handling food products delivered during the study, and dietary guidance of the participants. Senior consultant Leif Percival Andersen, Department of Infection Control, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, performed the analyses of Helicobacter pylori antibodies. We thank Pernille Kæstel for constructive inputs during the writing phase. The study was supported by a grant from the Danish Meat Association.


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Copyright information

© Spinger 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Inge Tetens
    • 1
    • 2
  • Karen M. Bendtsen
    • 1
    • 3
  • Marianne Henriksen
    • 1
    • 4
  • Annette K. Ersbøll
    • 5
  • Nils Milman
    • 6
  1. 1.Dept. of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Life ScienceUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Dept. of Nutrition, National Food InstituteTechnical University of DenmarkSoborgDenmark
  3. 3.Øresund Food NetworkCopenhagenDenmark
  4. 4.NycomedRoskildeDenmark
  5. 5.Dept. of Large Animal Sciences, Faculty of Life ScienceUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  6. 6.Dept. of Medicine B, RigshospitaletUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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