It’s no surprise if your cabinet is filled with supplements. A 2019 survey showed that 77% of Americans are consuming some sort of dietary supplement, such as vitamins and minerals.
But there’s a lot you should consider before swallowing your pills. If you’re taking supplements with no real plan or guidance, you could be making some mistakes that’ll backfire over time. It matters what types of vitamins you take and, potentially, when you take them.
Here’s everything you need to know:
Before even getting into the “what” and “when” of certain supplements, talk to your doctor.
Not everyone needs to take supplements.
“Ideally, it is best to get our essential vitamins and minerals from a well-balanced diet as these are more potent and better absorbed compared to supplements,” said Disha Narang, a board-certified endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. But sometimes your doctor may discover that you need a little extra help if you’re deficient.
The Food and Drug Administration does not monitor dietary supplements for safety and quality like other drugs, so it is best to approach them with caution when adding them to your routine.
“The fact that supplements are not FDA approved means that there is limited evidence for supporting their safety and effectiveness, since there is no oversight by the FDA or other agencies,” Narang said.
That’s why it’s important to speak to a health care provider about your specific case. They can recommend products you actually need and what to avoid, as some can interfere with other medications and be harmful to your health.
Taking your vitamins at a certain point in the day won’t improve how well they work.
Now let’s say you have a deficiency or it’s recommended that you take a few dietary supplements. Great! So when should you take them?
Broadly, that’s up to you. There is currently no scientific evidence that says taking vitamins at a specific time of day can enhance their effectiveness. However, “the key is to take your vitamins at the same time every day for consistency,” said Supriya Lal, a registered dietitian based in New York City.
That said, what you take your vitamins with ― such as food or water ― does matter, since it impacts their absorption in your body. So the general timing of taking supplements isn’t important, but the type of supplements and what else you do when you take them is.
Try taking water-soluble vitamins in the morning.
Vitamins that are soluble in water, such as B vitamins, are not stored in our bodies. “Our body takes how much water-soluble vitamins it needs to function and flushes the rest out,” said Lal.
These vitamins are best absorbed without food in your stomach, which means you could take them an hour before a meal or two hours after a meal. Lal recommends taking water-soluble vitamins first thing in the morning, as some B vitamins have been studied to interfere with sleep.
Take any fat-soluble vitamins with a snack.
Fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D and E, are stored in fat cells upon absorption. “Many of the foods we eat –– particularly fruits and vegetables –– are filled with vitamins A, E and K, so most of us do not need those supplements,” Narang said. Moreover, taking large doses of fat-soluble vitamins can be toxic to your body.
For people who do need to take fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin D, it is best to take them with food. “I recommend taking them with a meal or snack containing healthy fats or oil, such as avocado toast or cheese,” Lal said. So perhaps that’s when you have a mid-morning or afternoon snack, or maybe it’s with breakfast.
Time your multivitamins around a meal.
Multivitamins contain a combination of water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, such as iron, copper and calcium. Mineral intake can vary ― some are OK to be taken on an empty stomach, while others are recommended to be taken with food to avoid gastrointestinal distress, Narang said.
Given that multivitamins have water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, having one alongside a meal will increase the likelihood that the fat-soluble vitamins and minerals within it are absorbed, Lal said.