Real tea all comes from the same plant. Whether green, black, oolong or white, all real teas come from the Camellia sinensis plant. Rooibos tea, sometimes called red tea, does not come from Camellia sinensis and does not contain the same ingredients as non-herbal teas. Specifically, red tea does not contain tannins, which are the ingredients in Camellia sinensis tea that interfere with iron absorption.
Rooibos tea is made from Aspalathus linearis, a plant native to South Africa. It does not contain caffeine or tannins, but it does contain a number of potentially beneficial plant compounds, including flavonoids, polyphenols, and phenolic acids, which may have antioxidant benefits.
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Tannins in Teas
Tannins in teas made from the Camellia sinesis plant interfere with iron absorption by binding to the iron after ingestion. Drinking a single cup of real tea with non-heme foods -- plant sources of iron -- can reduce iron absorption by as much as 70 percent. Tannins interfere only with non-heme iron, and don't affect absorption of heme iron, which comes from animal sources. Rooibos tea does not contain tannins.
Rooibos tea has undergone very few clinical trails in general. Only one study appears to have been done about its effects on iron absorption. The study, conducted by South African researchers and reported in the "South African Medical Journal," looked at the effects of rooibos tea compared to regular tea and water on iron absorption. The iron absorption rate after ingesting rooibos tea was 7.25 percent, compared with 1.70 percent for regular tea and 9.34 percent for water.
Iron is essential for building red blood cells and transporting oxygen to cells throughout the body. Iron deficiency anemia can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, cold sensitivity and rapid heartbeat. If you have low iron levels, substituting roobios tea for regular tea makes sense, especially if you consume most of your iron from plant sources. Rooibos tea contains a small amount of iron, which may actually benefit your iron stores.
- Healthwise; Rooibos; January 2009
- Linus Pauling Institute; Tea; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; January 2005
- "The South African Medical Journal"; The Effect of Rooibos Tea on Iron Absorption; P. Hesseling, et al.; April 1979
- Iron Disorders Institute: Diet Recommendations for Hemochromatosis
- MayoClinic.com; Iron Deficiency Anemia; March 2011