Want to make sure you are making the most of your vitamins and minerals supplements? Find out how with these do’s and don’ts from registered dietitian Patrick Quillin, a nutritional supplement expert and former vice-president of nutrition for Cancer Nutrition Centers of America.
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Don’t assume that all multi-vitamins are the same. Professional-grade brands tend to offer more bioavailable and natural forms of nutrients, often in chelated form (bound with an amino acid for better absorption), a better balance of trace minerals than lower-quality brands, and the active forms of vitamins. Look on the label for these markers of a better-quality multi: the active form of vitamin D, listed as D3 or cholecalciferol; the active form of B12, methylcobalamin; yeast-bound selenium or selenomethionine; and chromium picolinate or polynicotine (not chromium chloride).
Don’t take vitamins and minerals with tea or coffee. Tea has compounds that interfere with iron absorption. And, while coffee won’t hurt vitamin or mineral absorption, it doesn’t help.
Do take your vitamins with food. The stomach acid produced when you eat helps you break down and absorb nutrients.
Don’t take vitamins and minerals with other medications. Vitamins and meds can interact in ways that decrease their effectiveness. Calcium, for instance, interferes with thyroid medicine. Even over-the-counter drugs like antacids and fiber supplements interfere with vitamin absorption.
Don’t take a prenatal supplement if you’re past menopause. Forgive us for stating the obvious. But prenatal supplements are safe for most women to take even if they are not pregnant. However, for women past menopause and men, a prenatal will provide more iron than desirable, and double the amount of folate you need.
Do store fish oil supplements in the fridge. This also goes for other oil-based pills like CoQ10 (even gummy forms of fish oil). But keep other capsules, tablets and multivitamin gummies at room temperature. Moisture will condense on them, and over time, cause them to clump or crumble.
Don’t take folic acid and folicin if you are concerned about colon cancer. These may interfere with the body’s ability to convert folate to its active form, 5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid. Plus, high intake of folic acid and folicin have been associated with an increased risk for colon cancer. Researchers aren’t sure why. Instead, take the form of folate found in nature—methylfolate.
Don’t take the synthetic form of vitamin E. If you take vitamin E supplements, avoid those containing dl-alpha-tocopherol, which can interfere with your absorption of natural vitamin E. Instead, look for a vitamin that offers mixed tocopherols.
Don’t take beta carotene-only supplements if you smoke. Supplemental beta carotene may increase your risk of lung cancer. Instead, get your beta carotene from foods like carrots and winter squash, or take a supplement that contains mixed carotenoids.
Do take more than one kids’ gummy vitamins. You’ll need two or three to obtain an adult dosage.
Don’t take individual supplements of trace minerals without medical supervision. It’s too easy to create an imbalance or overdo it. Instead, do take a multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement or a balanced trace mineral supplement.
Don’t take more than about 500 mg of (elemental) calcium at one time. Your body can’t absorb more than that. Instead, split your dose over the course of the day.
Do take vitamin D3 supplements. Some people don’t convert vitamin D2 to D3 (the active form) as well as they should. And don’t worry about taking them at the same time as calcium. As long as your blood levels of vitamin D are good, you will absorb calcium properly.