Iron is a critical mineral nutrient for normal body function and is present in the body as heme and non-heme iron. The absorption of iron from the food is not very efficient and many foods are fortified with iron compounds to ensure a daily delivery of 5-11 mg of elemental iron per day. Higher iron needs are indicated during pregnancy, for strict vegetarians and old population with poor dietary intake. Meat foods are generally rich in iron containing the more absorbable heme iron up to 12-13 mg per serving while plant sources like beans, green vegetables such as spinach provide non heme iron of about 2-4 mg per serving. For fortification most commonly used sources are ferrous sulfate (20% elemental iron), ferrous fumerate (33% iron) and ferrous gluconate (12% iron). Ferric sodium EDTA is comparatively a new source and its use had raised some concerns regarding its safety. This has since been cleared.
"EFSA's Scientific Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS) also commented on the bioavailability of iron from this source, stating that studies demonstrate that iron in the form of ferric sodium EDTA is 2 to 3 times more bioavailable than ferrous sulfate and that it is efficiently incorporated into haemoglobin. Iron deficiency is estimated to affect half of all children in the developing world, and undermines the health of 500 million women of reproductive age, according to UNICEF.The ANS concluded that, "ferric sodium EDTA as a source of iron in food supplements, PARNUTS and fortified foods is of no safety concern at the proposed use levels as long as it does not lead to an exposure to EDTA above 1.9 mg EDTA/kg bw/day."The ANS found that overall exposure from all food sources was in the range of 8.6 mg/kgbw/day for children and 4.2 mg/kg bw/day for adults on average and to 9.5 mg/kg bw/day for children and 4.8 mg/kg bw/day for adults at the 95th percentile".
Anemia affects majority of the populations in most of the developing countries because of their poor buying capacity and consequent inability to access to meat foods which are rich sources of heme iron. With higher bio-availability guaranteed when ferric sodium EDTA is used as the source of supplementation, care needs to be taken to avoid iron toxicity due to excess intake of iron and consequent dangers.