There's nothing quite like getting the kids into bed and sitting down after a long day to a hot cup of tea or coffee to help you unwind. It's a habit many parents love and for some, a drink they can’t do without. After all, it's a good way to add a little extra water to your diet and many teas have added health benefits while caffeine can help power you through a busy day. However, it's important to remember that these dependable drinks can affect your iron levels.
Iron is an essential nutrient for everyone so keep in mind that if your teens are beginning to drink teas and coffees this could be important for them as well. Most of the iron in the body (around 65 to 75 per cent)1 is found in hemoglobin, which is a protein that transports oxygen around the body. Iron is also found in myoglobin, which is important for muscle health.
So what does this mean for iron levels? One way to ensure you're getting the most out of your diet is to avoid tea or coffee during or in conjunction with main meals. This is because tea can lower your iron absorption by up to 60 per cent, and coffee can lower absorption by up to 50 per cent1. The tannins in these drinks bind to the minerals in iron, which makes it harder for the body to absorb them. Fortunately, these effects are only found in non-heme iron (the kind you get from grains and veggies), and heme iron (the kind you get from meat) is unaffected.
If you're getting a good level of iron in your diet, it’s unlikely tea or coffee will have a severe impact on your intake. However, for teens and pregnant women in particular, plenty of iron is essential and there may be times when you'll need to make sure you're not cutting out iron accidentally. In these cases, opt for a glass of orange juice (full of vitamin C and great for actually boosting your iron intake) instead or schedule your tea and coffee breaks away from main meal times. You may also want to talk to your healthcare professional or a naturopath about supplements that can help to top up your calcium intake.