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Foods That Help Reduce Iron Absorption

Updated on March 4, 2012

While iron is an essential mineral in the body, there are some conditions where too much iron is absorbed through the small intestine.

In those cases, it is a good idea to eat foods that limit or reduce iron absorption.

Iron is present in a huge range of foods, and is considered so essential it is artificially added to many breads and breakfast cereals.

The main function of iron is to help the red blood cells to carry oxygen around our bodies. Our red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin which absorbs the iron. In turn,it allows the cells to transport gases and build enzymes.

Without iron, we would very quickly become anemic, ill and lethargic.

Foods rich in iron include:

  • red meats
  • green vegetables
  • pulses
  • beans
  • lentils
  • fish
  • poultry
  • fortified breads
  • fortified cereals

These foods are diificult to avoid when our bodies are storing too much iron, as happens in people suffering from conditions like hemochromatosis.

While some foods actually helps increase the absorption of iron, others decrease the rate and amount of iron absorbed.

Iron itself is divided into two group - heme and non-heme.

  • Heme iron is found in meats, fish and poultry. It is originated from hemoglobin cells and so comes from a previously living creature.
  • Non-heme iron comes from plants.

They are important to know about, as different food groups cane affect the two types of iron differently.

Here, I have a list of foods you can take to discourage iron absorption.

Foods containing calcium

  • milk
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • sardines
  • canned salmon
  • tofu
  • broccoli
  • almonds
  • figs
  • turnip greens
  • rhubarb

Calcium

Foods containing calcium help reduce the absorption of iron, though you have to take a lot of it to be effective.

It is the only essential mineral that can effectively limit the absorption of both heme and non-heme iron.

Aim for at least 300 - 600mgs to block both heme and non-heme iron.

A single cup of milk contains 300mgs.

Calcium supplements, if recommended by your health care provider, are best taken at bed-time.

Your daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of calcium is in the region of 1200mgs.

Foods rich in oxalates

  • spinach
  • kale
  • beetroot
  • nuts
  • chocolate
  • tea
  • wheat bran
  • rhubarb
  • strawberries
  • oregano
  • basil
  • parsley

Oxalates

Oxalates come from compounds containing oxalic acid, and they reduce the absorption of non-heme iron.

In order for oxalates to work well in the body, they should be taken with calcium.

Calcium bind with the oxalates ensuring a safe passage through the body.

When oxalates roam free, they tend to cause kidney stones and crystalise in the bones, joints, blood vessels and even in the brain.

Oxalates acts as chelating agents, trapping heavy metals including iron, lead and mercury and without calcium to bind to the oxalates, those metals would be stuck in the tissues instead of being safely removed from the body.

Eggs

A protein called phosvitin, which is a type of phosphoprotein, is present in eggs. It has the ability to bind to iron so that it passes through the body without being absorbed.

A single hard-boiled egg before a main meal can reduce iron absorption by up to 30%.

Phytates

Phytates are found in fiber and soy protein. They have the ability to reduce iron absorption by up to 70%.

Foods rich in phytates include:

  • walnuts
  • almonds
  • sesame
  • dried beans
  • lentils
  • peas
  • cereals
  • whole grains

Polyphenols

Foods containing polyphenols can reduce iron absorption by up to 90%.

Foods rich in polyphenols include:

  • black teas
  • peppermint and herbal teas
  • coffee
  • cocoa
  • spices
  • walnuts
  • apples
  • blackberries
  • raspberries
  • blueberries

They are most effective when taken more than 2 hours before or after meals, not inside this time period.

A reminder that iron is a metal!

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    • profile image

      Thank You!! 4 months ago

      Thank You!!

    • Health Visitor profile image
      Author

      Health Visitor 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks LL, yes exactly, people wishing to increase their iron absorption can still use this information, and cut down on those foods. Thanks for the welcome :)

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Interesting topic. And for those people who are looking to increase their iron intake and blood levels, just follow this information in reverse.

      Welcome to HubPages!

      Voted up and SHARED.