Effect of tea and other dietary factors on iron absorption

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2000 Sep;40(5):371-98. doi: 10.1080/10408690091189194.


Iron deficiency is a major world health problem, that is, to a great extent, caused by poor iron absorption from the diet. Several dietary factors can influence this absorption. Absorption enhancing factors are ascorbic acid and meat, fish and poultry; inhibiting factors are plant components in vegetables, tea and coffee (e.g., polyphenols, phytates), and calcium. After identifying these factors their individual impact on iron absorption is described. Specific attention was paid to the effects of tea on iron absorption. We propose a calculation model that predicts iron absorption from a meal. Using this model we calculated the iron absorption from daily menus with varying amounts of enhancers and inhibitors. From these calculations we conclude that the presence of sufficient amounts of iron absorption enhancers (ascorbic acid, meat, fish, poultry, as present in most industrialized countries) overcomes inhibition of iron absorption from even large amounts of tea. In individuals with low intakes of heme iron, low intakes of enhancing factors and/or high intakes of inhibitors, iron absorption may be an issue. Depletion of iron stores enhances iron absorption, but this effect is not adequate to compensate for the inhibition of iron absorption in such an inadequate dietary situation. For subjects at risk of iron deficiency, the following recommendations are made. Increase heme-iron intake (this form of dietary iron present in meat fish and poultry is hardly influenced by other dietary factors with respect to its absorption); increase meal-time ascorbic acid intake; fortify foods with iron. Recommendations with respect to tea consumption (when in a critical group) include: consume tea between meals instead of during the meal; simultaneously consume ascorbic acid and/or meat, fish and poultry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology
  • Ascorbic Acid / metabolism
  • Biological Availability
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism
  • Flavonoids*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology*
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Iron Deficiencies
  • Iron, Dietary / pharmacokinetics*
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenols / metabolism
  • Phytic Acid / metabolism
  • Polymers / metabolism
  • Polyphenols
  • Tea / adverse effects*
  • Tea / metabolism
  • Tea / physiology
  • Vitamin A / metabolism


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Flavonoids
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Phenols
  • Polymers
  • Polyphenols
  • Tea
  • Vitamin A
  • Phytic Acid
  • Iron
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Calcium