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How Tea & Coffee Affect Iron Absorption, From A Nutritionist

December 10, 2021

If you're drinking at least one cup of caffeinated tea or coffee every single day (*raises hand*), you might want to pay attention to what kind of food pairing you're choosing. According to nutritionist and physiologist Simon Hill, combining coffee and tea with iron-rich foods can actually interfere with your absorption of the vital nutrient. 

Hill brought up this surprising tidbit during an episode of the mindbodygreen podcast—and we were just as shocked as you might be. Allow us to break it down.

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How do food & drink combinations affect iron absorption? 

As mbg co-founder and co-CEO Jason Wachob states in the episode, iron can be tricky. There's heme iron, which comes from animal sources, and then there's nonheme iron, which comes from plant-based sources. The latter form is thought to be less absorbable in the body. 

"If you're on a plant-based diet and you're only eating non-heme sources of iron, like beans," Wachob says, "you've got to think about combos to improve iron absorption." And while there are plenty of food combinations that can enhance iron absorption (vitamin C-rich foods, for example), Hill says it's equally important to pay attention to those that might hinder it.

"In terms of inhibiting iron absorption, the most common ones that I see are coffee and tea being consumed at the same time as iron-rich meals," he says. "The tannins and the polyphenols in these drinks—as good as they are for you—will inhibit iron absorption." 

Now, this doesn't mean you should quit coffee and tea altogether—but if you plan on eating an iron-packed breakfast (tofu scramble, anyone?), save your morning cuppa for later.

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Bottom line.

Iron deficiency1 is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the world (primarily affecting women2), Hill says, so this info is very important. Of course, if you're anemic, you're going to want to work with your doctor or dietitian and think about supplementation, he notes. But for those who simply want to make sure they're checking all of their nutritional boxes, it can be helpful to pay attention to what you are (and aren't) pairing with iron-rich foods.

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