It has been told that drinking tea may have iron-inhibiting effects in the body. And because of that, some people have been avoiding tea. But little do we know that the iron absorption effects of tea are minimal, because it only affects nonheme iron, and it's not necessary to stop consumption in the fear of being iron deficient.
Before we get all confused, let's have a small overview as to what dietary iron is.
Dietary iron is a very important element particularly because it transports oxygen to the blood hemoglobin and muscle myoglobin. It also plays a major role in most of the metabolic processes and helps in the regulation of cell growth. Deficiency in dietary iron may cause fatigue, decreased immunity and poor performance, and may eventually result to anemia.
Dietary iron is divided into two forms: the heme and the nonheme iron. Between these two, heme is the more readily absorbed form of dietary iron, containing the majority of ferrous iron valences. It is not affected by any dietary factors; therefore, tea could only influence the body's nonheme iron count.
Now why shouldn't we be afraid to drink tea?
Any iron-inhibiting effects of tea can easily be supplemented. These nonheme dietary iron are those that are found in non-meat products and could be replenished by added vegetable and grain consumption. The heme iron, those from meat and poultry products, are left untouched. And for the record, only 2-20% of nonheme iron can be possibly absorbed by the body, compared to the 15-35% of heme iron - surely a huge difference!
You can also enjoy the lighter brews of tea as their tannin components (the one responsible for inhibiting iron), are significantly lower. Increase your intake of Vitamin C-rich food and drinks, as they help improve the absorption of nonheme iron. You might also want to enjoy your tea with citrus products such as lemon and oranges. Vitamin C rich food helps enhance iron absorption by converting ferric iron to the more absorbable ferrous iron. In addition, it helps prevent ferrous iron from oxidizing back to the ferric form. And finally, if you have iron deficiency issues, drink your tea in-between meals, and possibly up to at least one hour after a meal to minimize absorption interference.
Overall, tea will not affect individuals who enjoy a healthy, balanced diet. And moderate tea drinking, that being 3-4 cups a day, does not have any major unfavorable effects on the body's iron levels.