Iron (Fe) is an essential micronutrient for human growth and health. Organic iron is an excellent iron supplement due to its bioavailability. Both amino acids and peptides improve iron bioavailability and absorption and are therefore valuable components of iron supplements. This review focuses on protein hydrolysates as potential promoters of iron absorption. The ability of protein hydrolysates to chelate iron is thought to be a key attribute for the promotion of iron absorption. Iron-chelatable protein hydrolysates are categorized by their absorption forms: amino acids, di- and tri-peptides and polypeptides. Their structural characteristics, including their size and amino acid sequence, as well as the presence of special amino acids, influence their iron chelation abilities and bioavailabilities. Protein hydrolysates promote iron absorption by keeping iron soluble, reducing ferric iron to ferrous iron, and promoting transport across cell membranes into the gut. We also discuss the use and relative merits of protein hydrolysates as iron supplements.
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