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


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

  • 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… 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 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.

    • Dan

      Spot on,you shouldn’t have more than a small cup of fluid to wash down a meal.. This is why its important to carry around drinks with you, so you can be hydrated before meals and why hibiscus tea is a good choice, so it doesn’t interfere with mineral absorption..

  • Could we shift the focus to zinc absorption? Getting less iron and less copper could be good because they both fuel oxidation. But zinc acts as an anti-oxidant, right? So how do the tannins in tea affect zinc absorption?

  • Ali Javed

    nice information!

  • Amanda Lutes

    Any updates on this? I’m 23, and was turned down for donating blood because my hemoglobin was at 11.4 (and it needs to be at 12.5). They sent me home with a deferral letter, which had tips on the back for increasing dietary iron (meats, raisins, spinach, apricots, vitamin-C rich foods, etc.), and said “Tea contains tannins, which will decrease the absorption of iron.”

    Since this came from the Red Cross, I assume that it’s legitimate and well-supported, but I’m starting to second guess that.


  • Noe Marcial
  • Taher

    “unless you are a rat and a rat in Tunisia, you should not worry about development of iron deficiency anemia from tea drinking.”
    That’s really insulting .

    And look at all comments , they said that they were advised by nutritionists to avoid consumption of tea with meals

    even the Red Cross says Tea will reduce iron absorption !

    • Kim Pfeiffer Dr Greger was merely quoting a publication in his first paragraph, ie they were not his words. He then began his second paragraph which was contrary to the first quote and publication mentioned.
      what I gathered from this article is to ensure vitamin c intake is up if you have low iron levels as c triples the iron absorption.
      This helps too-

  • Angela

    Exactly what types of tea prevent iron absorption? Specifically, does hibiscus tea impact iron absorption? Dr. Greger highly recommends hibiscus tea, but I am concerned about maintaining adequate iron on my plant-based diet.

    • Etienne-Emile Ciopenhauer

      The tannins in green tea are responsible. Hibiscus tea is not a problem.

  • Don

    I am a 56 yr. old male and have chronic post herpatic neuralgia in my neck and face from the shingles 15 years ago. Due to medications and age my Urologist started me on Testopel pellets and since then my iron levels have gone up and after starting phlebotomy therapy. Last year I could not give blood or continue pellets for 6 months. I’m back on the pellets but my iron continues to climb between phlebotomy visits (2 months). I am adopting Dr.Greger’s plans but want to know more about how to deal with this problem and I want to know more about oral EDTA as a chelating agent.