Tea and Iron Absorption

Image Credit: Aleksey / Flickr

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


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling 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.

22 responses to “Can tea with meals hinder iron absorption?

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  1. 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

        1. 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.

  2. 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?

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

  3. 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.

    1. 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..

      1. I doubt that. The reason herbs and spices are so healthy is because they contain Polyphenols, of which Tannins are one. This is why Turmeric, Cinnamon and Curry Powder have all been observed to inhibit the absorption of non-haem iron. In my opinion, spices and teas are a mixed bag and should be appreciated for their good aspects and also have their “negative” effects measured and neutralised. Just eat Bell Peppers in any meal that you intend to drink tea around. Also, Tamarind, Ginger and Pepper contain Polyphenols but don’t seem to affect Iron at all so if anyone is at risk for anaemia but wants to eat a spicy and anti-oxidant rich diet: look out for those three.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.


  6. “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 !


  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. My levels of serum ferritin were 36 prior to being WFPB and then dropped to 11, in just 6 months. I started a tea habit at this time too which did not help! So now i’m on supplements, trying to modify my diet and cut out the tea. It’s a bit sad, but oh well…I think as a women i wish i were warned of tea’s effects before hand- i knew at the back of my mind but it should be brought up a bit more so it’s more at the front of our minds, being fatigued for months at a time is not my idea of fun!

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