Decaf Coffee: Does It Reduce Iron Absorption?

Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages.

Need a surge of energy for extra productivity? Then have a cup of coffee.

However, most people who enjoy drinking coffee (me included), also want to limit their caffeine intake for several reasons. In fact, one of the biggest reasons is that caffeine may inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients, namely iron.

That appears to be the case, especially when you go over the data in different studies. (1, 2)

That being said, people seek alternatives, and the closest alternative to coffee is decaffeinated coffee, which provides you with the same flavor but without the stimulants. 

This article takes a closer look a decaf coffee and whether or not it inhibits iron absorption.

What is Decaf Coffee? How Is It Made?

Kenny Louie from Vancouver, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Decaf coffee is made from coffee beans that have at least 97% of their caffeine removed.

Caffeine can be removed using different methods, but most include using water, carbon dioxide, and organic solvents.

The beans are without caffeine when they are roasted and ground, but the nutritional content of the beans is comparable to regular coffee minus the caffeine.

However, keep in mind that decaf coffee is not caffeine-free.

One study has found that one cup of decaf coffee contained 0-7 mg of caffeine.

Though, that pales in comparison to the 70–140 mg of caffeine in a regular coffee cup, which varies depending on the method of preparation, as well as other factors.

Anyway, with caffeine content as low as 0-7 mg, does decaffeinated coffee interfere with the absorption of iron?

Thus far, nothing suggests that, but coffee beans still have something else.

(Decaf) Coffee Also Contains Polyphenols

Polyphenols, which include tannic acid, can inhibit iron absorption.

Polyphenols are in beverages such as coffee (with or without caffeine), cocoa, black, green, and many other herbal teas. These are referred to as polyphenolic-containing beverages.

These compounds bind with iron during digestion, making it more difficult to absorb. (3, 4)

Plus, their effect on iron absorption is dose-dependent, which means iron absorption decreases the more polyphenol-content there is in food and beverages. (3, 5)

So, does decaf coffee inhibit iron absorption? According to this research it does.

How Diet Affects Iron Absorption

Evidence suggests that the food you eat has a greater impact on iron absorption than actually drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks.

For instance, iron is available in two forms: non-heme and heme iron.

Non-heme iron, which is available in plant-based foods, is relatively unstable and can be affected by different dietary factors. Only 2-20% of non-heme iron is absorbed. (6)

However, heme-iron, which is available in animal foods, is more stable and has a relatively higher absorption rate of 15–35%. (7)

This means that drinking caffeinated or polyphenol-rich drinks is more likely to inhibit the absorption of iron in plant-based foods.

Should You Stop Drinking Decaf Coffee And Regular Coffee?

Nothing is suggesting that you should stop drinking decaf coffee or regular coffee.

Several studies are showing that coffee and caffeine are not associated with iron deficiency in healthy individuals, including people who follow a plant-based diet. (8, 9, 10, 11)

However, if you’re following a plant-based diet, there are some things you can keep in mind:

By allowing a 1-hour interval between a meal containing iron and the consumption of a caffeinated drink, you can attenuate the inhibitory effects on iron absorption. You can also add vitamin C to your meals, as it can significantly increase the absorption of non-heme iron.

Naturally, you must also be eating iron-rich foods such as:

  • Legumes (beans, lentils, and peas);
  • Nuts and seeds;
  • Leafy greens;
  • Tofu
  • Oatmeal
  • Dried Figs
  • Raising and more.

As long as you follow a diet that is rich in plant-based iron foods, your iron levels should be fine.

Bottom Line

Decaf coffee contains polyphenols.

Because the compounds bind with iron during ingestion, it makes it more difficult to absorb the iron in foods. So, yes, decaf coffee may inhibit iron absorption.

However, diet plays a major factor in how well iron is absorbed.

If you obtain iron from plant-based sources (non-heme iron), the absorption rate is lower, given that non-heme iron is unstable and can be affected by dietary factors.

Therefore, if you follow a plant-based diet, there are some things you need to consider to maximize your iron intake:

  • Eat more iron-rich foods (legumes such as beans, peas, or lentils);
  • Include vitamin C-rich foods in your meals because it increases iron absorption rates;
  • And avoid coffee or other caffeinated and polyphenolic-containing beverages before, during, and right after meals.

This being said, if you think your iron stores might be low, visit your doctor so that he can measure your iron status and provide you with medical advice.

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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