Do you drink a nice hot cup of tea to help you digest after a big meal? The benefits of drinking tea are numerous, and a suggested 3 cups of green tea a day can go a long way! But, do you usually consume tea with meals? More importantly, do you consume tea meals that contain plant foods?

It probably never crosses our minds that what we drink with a meal can have an effect on how our bodies react to the food. This is why it’s important to highlight that one of the worst things you can do is drink any type of liquid with food as it can hinder both digestion and absorption. The suggested 3 cups of green tea a day are actually not to be consumed with meals, but rather on their own as they can cause some health problems when consumed with certain types of food.

Drinking tea with meals can result in iron deficiency as some studies have proven that tea can decrease iron absorption in the body. More specifically, tea affects non-heme iron absorption which is the type of iron that is present in plant foods, such as grains and vegetables. In a study conducted to examine the effect of tea on iron absorption, after eating a meal with animal protein, beans and potatoes, subjects who drank tea were found to have a 62 percent reduction in iron absorption, while drinking coffee resulted in a 35 percent reduction. But this was not the result for all foods, consuming coffee and tea only affected the levels of non-heme iron (found in plant foods) and the heme iron (found in meat, fish and poultry) was unaffected.

Tannin, a compound found in tea, attaches to the non-heme iron in plant foods making the iron less accessible for absorption. Thus, drinking tea with a meal may increase an individual’s risk of iron deficiency. On the other hand, vitamin C, when consumed with foods can actually help increase iron absorption. So if drinking tea is a MUST for you while eating, try to add a lemon to it to help counter the effect of the tannins.

Even though drinking tea is usually included in a healthy diet, be aware that when you consume it, it can actually hinder your health. It’s best to leave your tea for an hour before or after your meals and not immediately before, during or immediately after them. For the best times to drink liquids with respect to meal times, check out our article here.