Regularly drinking tea can be beneficial for your health, since tea may lower your risk for clogged arteries, heart attacks, kidney stones, Parkinson's disease, high cholesterol and certain types of cancer. However, tea can also reduce the amount of iron you absorb if you drink it with meals.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. If you don't get enough iron, your body can't make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body, so you feel tired and you get sick more often since your immune system doesn't work as efficiently. Iron is also involved in creating new cells in your body.
Tea's Effect on Iron Absorption
Tea has more of an effect on your iron levels if you have iron deficiency anemia. Drinking a cup of tea with a meal decreased iron absorption by 49 percent in people with normal iron levels and by 59 percent in people with low iron levels, and drinking 2 cups of tea decreased iron absorption by 66 or 67 percent, depending on iron status, according to a study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in April 2008.
Limiting the Effect
If your iron levels are low, don't drink tea within an hour or two of meals, and eat foods that contain vitamin C along with foods that contain iron, since vitamin C increases iron absorption. Animal-based sources of iron, or heme iron, are much better absorbed than non-heme iron from plants, and eating at least a small amount of fish, meat or poultry along with plant-based iron sources will help increase your overall iron absorption.
If your iron levels are normal, it isn't likely to cause problems if you drink tea with your meals since you are getting plenty of iron from your diet. However, if your iron levels are low, pay attention to what you are eating along with plant foods that contain iron, especially if you are a vegetarian. Only 2 to 20 percent of iron from plant foods is absorbed by your body, while up to 35 percent of the iron from animal sources is absorbed since the absorption of iron from these foods isn't really affected by diet, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. (See References 1,2,3,6)
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.