Foods That Inhibit Iron

Updated February 21, 2017

Because it plays an important role in such processes as growth, healing and immune functioning, iron is a mineral that is essential for good health. Although iron can be obtained easily through consumption of iron-rich foods, there are some foods that actually inhibit the absorption of iron. These foods include eggs, oxalates, polyphenols, phytates and calcium. In order to ensure maximum absorption of iron, avoid including these foods in otherwise iron-rich meals.


Eggs contain a compound called phosphoprotein that binds to iron, inhibiting iron absorption. According to, one boiled egg eaten with a meal can reduce absorption of iron in that meal by up to 28 per cent.


Foods such as spinach, sweet potatoes, beets, nuts, chocolate, strawberries, whole wheat and tea contain oxalates, a compound derived from oxalic acid that inhibits the absorption of iron. Although some of these foods, such as spinach, contain high amounts of iron, the oxalate compounds prevent iron absorption.


Polyphenols are compounds that bind to iron, forming a complex that the body cannot absorb. Some of the most commonly consumed polyphenols include coffee and tea. According to, iron absorption can be reduced by up to 90 per cent when coffee and tea are included in a meal. Other foods that contain polyphenols include apples, raspberries, blueberries, walnuts and some spices.


Phytates are iron-inhibiting compounds found in foods that contain soy protein or fibre. These foods can reduce iron absorption by up to 65 per cent, according to Walnuts, almonds, lentils, peas, whole grains and soy products contain phytates.


Like iron, calcium is a mineral that is vitally important for good health. It is found in dairy products and many other foods, including sardines, turnip greens and salmon. Although a small amount of calcium consumed with a meal will not inhibit iron absorption, a larger amount, such as that in a glass of milk, can present a problem. Avoid taking calcium supplements with meals if possible.

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About the Author

Melissa Busse is a freelance writer covering a variety of topics, including natural health and beauty, budget balancing and parenting. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art from Maryville University in St. Louis.