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Can tea with meals hinder iron absorption?

This is a bit unrelated, but I eat a plant-based diet. I’m also a 20-something year old woman of child bearing age who runs, so making sure I’m getting enough iron from plant sources is important to me. I’ve heard that tannins in coffee, tea, and chocolate can hinder the adsorption of iron when consumed together. Is there evidence to support this? Thank you!

ksduck / Originally posted below Dried apples versus cholesterol

Answer:

Quoting from “Green tea does not inhibit iron absorption” published 2009 in the International Journal of Cardiology, “The only reference that I could find in the literature about a negative effect of tea drinking on iron absorption came from Tunisia. But the experiment was carried out on rats. Therefore, unless you are a rat and a rat in Tunisia, you should not worry about development of iron deficiency anemia from tea drinking.”

In 2008, though, a study in India found that drinking tea with meals could cut iron absorption in half. This is a function of publication delays. The cardiology journal piece was published in 2009 but was written in 2007, before the India study surfaced. The good news, though, is that the study found that vitamin C triples iron absorption, so as long as you’re drinking tea with lemon, or eating vitamin C rich foods at your meals (like citrus, broccoli, tropical fruits, bell peppers, etc.) then this shouldn’t be an issue. If, however, you don’t like lemon (and lemon in coffee? Yuck!) and aren’t eating these kinds of foods, then menstruating women may want to lay off tea and coffee (and cocoa and peppermint tea) during meals and up to an hour before to maximize iron absorption. In men (and nonmenstruating women), the reduction of iron absorption may not necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, the effect of coffee on iron absorption has been used to explain why coffee consumption has been found to be protective against diseases tied with iron overload such as diabetes and gout.

For a related phenomenon, see my video New Mineral Absorption Enhancers Found and the accompanying blog post How to Enhance Mineral Absorption.

Image credit: Aleksey / Flickr

Dr. Michael Greger

About Michael Greger M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

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  • Simon

    anything new on the green tea preventing iron absorption ? i went to a nutritionist lately and she recommended that i should not drink green tea 2h before and after meals. so that gives me like a 30 minutes window, twice a day ? that sounded insane to me, but who am i to contradict my nutritionist. so digging a bit since, i found a myriad of contradicting informations. i’d love to have your update on this, if there is any.

    Thank you

    • Eric

      Same here! I have received the same information Simon received from his nutritionist. I’m puzzled.

      • Katzchen

        http://ajcn.nutrition.org/cont… Here is a research study related to green tea’s antioxidant properties and iron absorption.

        • Toxins

          Although it did decrease absorption, it was not a complete block of nonheme iron, but a partial block. It appears to have a 27% reduction in iron absorption.

  • Jared Fontaine

    My friend told me that when he went become a vegetarian, his hematocrit
    levels were lower. Now they were not life threatening but they were lower around 39%. I am a vegan cyclist and we need a high HT levels to compete. I want and need High like 45-48 HT levels. Can you tape a podcast about vegan athletes and hematocrit levels?

    • CycleVegan

      I’m in the same boat Jared. I just became anemic over the past 8 months. Thought my multivitamin had iron – wrong. Now what?

  • Katzchens

    http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/73/3/607.short Here is a research study related to green tea’s antioxidant properties and iron absorption.

  • Jules

    just don’t drink anything at least 15 minutes before any meal and wait at least an hour after a meal – drinking anything while eating is bad.

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