When it comes to getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs, it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. However, taking vitamins is a good insurance policy — a way to make sure that you’re not missing out on important nutrients, especially if you have a chronic medical condition or eat a restricted diet. Here’s how to make the most of your vitamin routine.
1. Take your multivitamin with food.
According to Harvard Health, a daily multivitamin is useful for people who don’t get adequate nutrition through food, whether due to a restricted diet or a condition that increases their nutrient needs. Because certain vitamins are helpful only when taken with food, it’s best to take your multivitamin with a meal or snack. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, meaning your body can absorb them only when they’re digested with fat. You don’t need to eat a whole avocado or a spoonful of oil, however. Eggs, a smear of peanut butter or even a splash of half-and-half in your morning coffee provides enough fat.
2. Buy only vitamins approved by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
Vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means many don’t actually contain the ingredients or doses that they print on the label. To make sure you’re getting appropriate amounts of high-quality vitamins, the Cleveland Clinic recommends buying supplements only with the USP seal printed on the packaging. These are tested and approved by a trusted laboratory.
3. Pay attention to dosage.
Some vitamins probably won’t cause harm in large doses, but others might. Always read the label, which gives the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of every vitamin in the supplement, set by the Institute of Medicine based on what most people need each day. The supplement label also tells you the daily value (DV), the percentage of the RDA that the supplement contains.
Vitamin C and all the B vitamins are water-soluble, which means your body can absorb them without food. Any excess gets eliminated through your urine, so overdoses are unlikely even if you take more than the RDA.
However, fat-soluble vitamins — vitamins A, D, E and K — are absorbed with fat and then stored in your liver and fat tissues. Therefore, it takes a long time for your body to get rid of any excess, and overdosing is possible. If you take a multivitamin, make sure that it doesn’t have more than the RDA for all four fat-soluble vitamins. Most don’t. Due to the risk of overdose, most people should avoid taking individual fat-soluble vitamin supplements unless told otherwise by a doctor.
One exception is vitamin D, especially for people who don’t consume commonly fortified foods (such as cow’s milk, non-dairy milk and orange juice). If you’re not taking a multivitamin supplement, you can safely take the RDA for vitamin D, which is 600 IUs (15 mcg) per day (800 IUs, or 20 mcg, for people older than 70).
4. Change up your vitamin routine as you age.
Our bodies change as we age, which means our nutrient needs change, too. Women of child-bearing age should supplement with folic acid to prevent birth defects related to the brain and spine. Adults 50 and older should supplement with vitamins D and B-12 to prevent bone loss and cognitive decline. Calcium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acid supplements are beneficial for people of all ages.
5. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist which vitamins you’re taking.
Some vitamins interfere with certain medications. For example, the blood thinner warfarin won’t work if you’re getting too much vitamin K from food or supplements. Similarly, anyone on thyroid medication shouldn’t take a calcium, magnesium or iron supplement within four hours of taking their medication.
If you’re taking any prescription medications, it’s important to talk to your pharmacist before buying over-the-counter supplements. Your pharmacist can review your medications and tell you if there are any medication interactions you should know about. You should also keep your doctor up to date on your vitamin routine.