Both coffee and tea can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nonheme iron, the type found in plant foods. To begin with, nonheme iron is not as easily absorbed as heme iron, the type derived from meat. Additionally, the polyphenol compounds in coffee and tea can impede absorption of nonheme iron. (Certain compounds in wheat bran and legumes can have the same effect.)
Here’s the good news: even if you’ve been diagnosed with low iron levels or are at risk of iron-deficiency anemia, you don’t have to stop drinking coffee or tea. Instead, enjoy these beverages (in moderation) between meals to minimize the effect. To maximize iron absorption, always pair plant sources of iron with vitamin C–rich foods, which help “unlock” nonheme iron, or include a small amount of meat when eating plant-based meals. For example, top your morning cereal with sliced strawberries or add a few strips of lean beef to a leafy green salad.
You can pose your own question to our contributing editor Jennie McCary, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and the wellness coordinator for the Albuquerque Public School District. She chairs Action for Healthy Kids in New Mexico and teaches nutrition at the University of New Mexico. Please send your questions, along with your name and city/state/country, to senior editor Diane Lofshult at [email protected].
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