The effect of ascorbic acid on the absorption of non-heme iron was studied in 299 subjects. Different meals in which the non-heme iron was labelled with two different radio-iron isotopes were served with and without ascorbic acid to the same subject. Other meals containing foods with a known high content of ascorbic acid were also studied. Studies were also made giving different amounts of ascorbic acid with different meals. Marked differences in the enhancement of iron absorption were seen when ascorbic acid was given in different meals. It is suggested that ascorbic acid promotes iron absorption from the diet by reducing the negative effect on iron absorption of certain ligands such as phytates and tannins present in the diet. This interpretation is supported by observations that the most pronounced effects of ascorbic acid were found in meals with a high content of ligands known to inhibit iron absorption. Crystalline ascorbic acid and native ascorbic acid in foods appeared to have the same effect in promoting absorption of iron. The results indicate that ascorbic acid has a key physiologic role in facilitating the absorption of non-heme iron from the diet and that about 50 mg of the vitamin in each main meal is desirable for optimum effect.