Maybe you pop a daily vitamin or dietary supplement in order to boost your health. That’s fine, as long as you’re taking the right dose at the right time. After all, you are likely paying out-of-pocket for vitamins, so getting the biggest bang for your investment is important. Timing of your vitamin intake can help you obtain maximal benefits from these supplements.
Basic supplement facts
Many claims on supplements may not be backed by clinical studies.
If your diet is optimal, you could likely pass on taking most vitamins or supplements.
Vitamins and supplements are not innocuous: excessive doses can cause harm.
It is reasonable to take a general multivitamin to “fill in gaps” in your diet.
The following is a basic guide for the best times and ways to consume vitamins:
The B vitamin group includes thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, niacin, biotin, vitamin B-12, folic acid and pantothenic acid. If you are taking any of these B vitamins they can all be taken at the same time.
Best time to take the B’s is in the morning on an empty stomach. These vitamins can also energize you — another reason to take them early in the day and not at night.
Water soluble vitamins include vitamin C and most of the B vitamins. Many of these are not naturally produced in the body or stored, which is why it’s important to track food sources or take supplemental vitamins.
Best time to take water soluble vitamins is in the morning (see the guide for the B’s above) on an empty stomach (wait 30 minutes before eating) but divide doses if you are on any high dose selections. You can also take them two hours after a meal.
Fat soluble vitamins are typically stored in the body’s liver and fatty tissues. So we should get enough of these vitamins including vitamin A, D, E and K from foods. If you do supplement, make sure you are taking the correct individualized dose. Fat soluble vitamins should be taken in divided doses, since excessive doses taken at once can be harmful or toxic. Cooking should not destroy these vitamins sourced from foods.
Best time to take fat soluble vitamins is with the evening meal since they are better absorbed when accompanied by some fat in foods, like a healthy olive oil-based salad dressing on your greens.
Prenatal vitamins are basically multivitamins that include calcium, iron and folic acid in addition to the usual blend of vitamins. Iron in particular should be consumed on an empty stomach, and won’t absorb properly in the presence of dairy. It’s better absorbed if accompanied by vitamin C (a small serving of orange juice, for example).
The best time to take your prenatal vitamin is before lunch with a small sip of orange juice.
Calcium supplements are often recommended for women, especially those at risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis (dieters, perimenopausal and post-menopausal women, and pregnant women). Stomach acid produced when you eat helps with optimal absorption of calcium carbonate. Take a maximum of 500 mg of calcium at one time. That means if you’re told to take 1000 mg daily, divide it into two doses.
The best time to take calcium is with a meal.
Multivitamin choice should be tailored to age, gender and specific health needs or gaps in an individual’s diet. A basic multivitamin includes a range of vitamins and minerals. If you’ve been prescribed a prenatal vitamin, you should discontinue your daily multivitamin unless your doctor indicates otherwise.
The best time for most people to take a daily multivitamin is with their morning meal.
Some vitamin “don’ts":
Don’t “double up” on prenatal vitamins.
Never take any vitamins or supplements when pregnant or nursing without talking to your doctor first.
Be aware of how many vitamin-fortified foods you eat daily and tally up the various vitamin doses that are added to these foods.
Stop taking biotin if you are undergoing thyroid testing.
If you are motivated to embrace healthy eating habits that will help meet general health goals then consider having at least two servings of dairy foods (choose those with lower levels of saturated fat) daily in order to boost your calcium intake. Also aim for a “prescription” of 10 (combined) total servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Eat a variety of colors so you benefit from a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Steaming is best when choosing a cooking method that will not significantly impact the nutrients in vegetables. Remember to have a bit of healthy fat when consuming fat-soluble vitamin-rich foods. These habits alone will help you to close the vitamin gap in your diet.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”