Tea Consumption and Iron Absorption

Tea consumption has received much press lately regarding its effect on the bodies ability to successfully absorb iron. The good news is most healthy people who are not iron deficient and are considered “healthy” don’t have much to worry about if they’re tea drinkers and were considering changing their tea drinking habits.

The most common nutritional deficiency worldwide is lack of iron stemming from improper nutrition. Iron is needed by the body to carry out many metabolic processes; ultimately, when deprived of iron, a person is at a higher risk of being diagnosed with anaemia.

Here are some interesting facts regarding iron and tea consumption:

Dietary Iron Sources

Iron comes from two distinct sources:

Haem Iron originates from an animal product and is found in meat, liver, and meat products. 20% to 40% of haem iron from the food source is absorbed into the body when ingested.

Non-haem originates from plant foods such as cereal, vegetables, fruit, dried fruits etc… This type of iron is considered poorly absorbed and around 5% of the non-haem iron from these food sources is actually absorbed into the body. So…

Heam iron – haemoglobin and myoglobin of animals – easily absorbed

Non-haem iron – plant foods – not as easily absorbed

Tea Drinking and Iron Absorption

The actual component that blocks the absorption of iron into the body is a “Phenolic compound” found in tea, coffee, red wine and leafy vegetables.

Non-haem iron is more influenced by tea consumption than haem iron. This means that diets that rely on iron intake from cereal, vegetables, nuts, fruits as a total source of nutrition may be negatively impacted by tea drinking than diets rely on haem iron sources like red meats and animal products.

Also, haem iron present in foods like meat, offal and meat products are readily absorbed and tea drinking has no real effect on iron absorption.

Practical Advice for Tea Drinkers Concerned About Iron Absorption

  • There is no real evidence to suggest that tea drinking will adversely affect iron absorption if you are not at risk for iron deficiency and are eating a well-balanced diet.
  • Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron while eating. So, why not try drinking orange or grapefruit juice with meals to aid in absorbing iron.
  • Evidence confirms that certain age groups are more likely to have poor “iron status” ie.. children under 6, adolescent girls, women between age 18-49, and women over 75 years of age.
  • If you’re at risk for iron deficiency you should avoid drinking tea with meals, however…
  • 3-4 cups of tea daily spread out over the day (not at meal time)has a very little effect on iron absorption
  • Tea has many other health benefits so 3-4 cups daily may promote these as well

Summary…

Tea drinkers shouldn’t worry about the adverse effects of iron absorption unless they are within one of the at-risk group for iron deficiency. If you think you are at risk consult your physician prior to consuming tea, otherwise enjoy the many health benefits associated with, for example, oolong tea drinking.