Macro- and micronutrients
In the last blog we told you something about macronutrients and most importantly, proteins and the difference between plant and animal based proteins. In the next two editions, we would like to address the smaller, but equally important counterparts, the micronutrients. Micronutrients are a group consisting of vitamins, minerals and other trace elements. These components are an important part of the diet, even though the quantities in food are low. Micronutrients are essential for many metabolic processes to take place. As told in our previous blog, we try to create nutritionally complete alternatives to meat. One of the most prevalent and important micronutrients in meat is iron.
Iron as a nutrient
Iron is a well-known compound which can exist in many different forms and is known for its many different uses. One of its uses is as a nutrient in food. Iron is an important micronutrient, as a deficiency can cause severe problems such as anemia. Luckily the diet in developed countries will not result in such severe problems, but still, iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world.
Different types of iron
The iron that is present in food can be roughly divided into two types: Heme Iron and non-heme iron. An important difference between these two types of iron is the rate of absorption by the body. Whether iron is easily absorbed or not, is dependent on the solubility.
- Source: Animal
- Form: Readily formed complex
- Uptake: Fast and easily absorbed
Heme iron is more easy to absorb for the body than non-heme iron. The chemical symbol of iron is Fe. In the figure on the right iron is bound in the so called heme complex. This complex is easily digestible for the body and the iron is hard to reach for compounds which can decrease the absorption. Grains and pulses can contain compounds which can decrease the rate of absorption of iron. Because heme iron is easy to absorb and not affected by these so called anti-nutritional factors, but is only present in animal sources, iron deficiency could be a problem with a strict vegan or vegetarian diet.
- Source: Plant based
- Form: All kinds of forms, from very soluble ferrous sulphate to insoluble metal
- Uptake: Absorption dependant on solubility and ability to form complexes
On a strict vegan or vegetarian diet, the only type of iron is non-heme iron. In the figure on the right the molecular structure of ferrous fumarate is shown. This is a type of non-heme iron. The Fe is separated. This Fe is free to bind to complexes, which can either increase or decrease the absorption. Compounds which increase the absorption are for example vitamin B12, whilst pulses and grains can contain compounds which can decrease the absorption of iron. Ferrous sulphate and ferrous fumarate are the best plant based iron sources. Schouten uses ferrous fumarate to fortiry its products with easily digestible iron.
Food enrichment according to the WHO
Because of the prevalence of iron deficiency around the world, iron fortification is a common phenomenon in food. According to the WHO guidelines on food fortification, there are three main types:
- Mass fortification
- Targeted fortification, and
- Market-driven fortification
The iron fortification of plant based protein foods is described by the latter one. The term market-driven fortification is used to describe situations where a food manufacturer takes a business-oriented decision to add one or more micronutrients to the products. In the EU, processed foods have shown to be a substantial source of micronutrients such as iron and vitamins A and D.
Here at Schouten we care about the planet and your health. Therefore we aim to make nutritionally complete alternatives for meat. We fortify our products, when appropriate, with iron in the form of ferrous fumarate, and vitamin B12, which helps increasing iron uptake.