This Common Breakfast Habit Makes You Anemic

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If you’re eating greener for the planet, you probably know that eating enough iron can be a challenge on a plant-based diet.

Plant-based sources of iron can be harder for our bodies to absorb, and eating them with sources of vitamin C can boost our bodies’ ability to take in more iron. So a high-iron spinach salad with orange slices, fresh organic strawberries, or some red bell pepper is a great option.

Coffee and Tea: Stealthy Iron-Killing Ninjas

What you probably didn’t know is that coffee and tea significantly reduce the amount of iron our body can absorb when we eat iron.

This is true for both heme (animal sourced) and non-heme (plant sourced) iron. So even if you do tend to eat meat on occasion, be mindful of what you choose to drink with your meals. In fact, a study found that having coffee or tea with iron-rich foods reduced absorption by 60-90%!  

Without enough iron, our bodies become anemic. We feel tired, but other problems also arise, including heart palpitations and hair loss.

It’s Not the Caffeine

Surprisingly, it’s not the caffeine that’s getting in the way of iron absorption. The iron blocking effect appears to be caused by polyphenols, which are actually healthy antioxidant compounds that help to reduce chronic inflammation.

Coffee, tea, chocolate and red wine are especially abundant in polyphenols, so it’s probably a good idea to enjoy a glass of wine an hour before or after your meal, too. This research brings a lot of questions about chocolate to the surface, as it can be rich in iron, but it’s possible that we may not be able to easily absorb the iron due to the polyphenols found in cacao.

How to Get Your Iron and Your Latte

The old adage appears to be true – when it comes to antioxidants and iron, there can be too much of a good thing. Luckily, there’s a pretty easy fix for this problem, and it lets you have your breakfast, and your latte, too.

If you’re fueling up with a green smoothie, or a breakfast full of high-iron nut and seed butters, scientists recommend that you drink your coffee, tea or cacao an hour before or after your meal to make sure that your body gets as much iron as possible from your food. So if you time things right, you should be able to help your body get the most iron it can from your meal, while also enjoying your morning coffee or tea.

Pump Up the Iron

If you’re curious, here are top sources of iron to help you stay strong and balanced while enjoying a plant-based diet: 

  • Legumes (like lentils and beans)

  • Edamame / soy beans

  • Tofu

  • Tempeh

  • Natto (fermented soybeans – an acquired delicious umami taste!)

  • Leafy greens

  • Pumpkin Seeds

  • Flax Seeds

  • Hemp Seeds

  • Tahini (sesame butter)

  • Almonds

  • Cashews

  • Pine Nuts

  • Tomato Paste

  • White & Oyster Mushrooms

  • Olives

  • Coconut Milk

  • Dark Chocolate

  • Thyme