If you take a multivitamin as part of your morning ritual, you're not alone. John Hopkins Medicine reports that half of U.S. adults—including 70 percent of those age 65 and older—take multivitamins or other health supplements regularly. And while taking a daily multivitamin can't make up for poor eating habits, they can be beneficial for filling in nutritional gaps that may be lacking in your diet.
"Multivitamins are an important part of any health regimen, regardless of age or gender," says Trista Best, RD, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements. "They can profoundly impact your health when used to supplement an already balanced diet." Read on to find out this expert's top tips for getting the most out of your multivitamin in order to optimize your health.
Take your multivitamin with a fat source
Vitamins fit into two classifications: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins include B-vitamins and vitamin C. These nutrients dissolve in water and are carried to your body's tissues without being stored. Conversely, the fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K—are best absorbed with fats and are stored in the body's fatty tissue and liver. Fat-soluble vitamins are crucial for immune function, bone health, and vision. They're also required in the diet to promote growth, reproduction, and health, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Therefore, simply taking your multivitamin with water won't do the trick for optimizing the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. Consider taking your multivitamin alongside a meal or snack that contains dietary fats: Avocados, peanut butter, and eggs are all great choices. Alternatively, buy a high-quality multivitamin containing a fat source (e.g., flaxseed, coconut, or fish oil) to enhance vitamin absorption.
Avoid drinking alcohol before or after your multivitamin
A glass of wine or a cold brew after a long day can be an enjoyable way to unwind. But making alcohol consumption a regular habit can interfere with your body's ability to absorb essential nutrients, such as vitamin B1, B12, folic acid, and zinc.
Alcohol impairs the breakdown of nutrients into digestible molecules by decreasing the pancreas's ability to secrete digestive enzymes. Furthermore, alcohol inhibits nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining your stomach and intestines, interfering with the delivery of nutrients into your bloodstream—not to mention, it's devoid of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.
"The absorption of certain nutrients is hindered by alcohol," says Best. "Therefore, avoid taking your multivitamin a few hours before or after consuming alcohol, to give it time to be digested."
Don't wash your multivitamin down with coffee
If you love kickstarting your day with a hot cup of java, you may be one of millions of Americans who drink coffee every morning. In fact, 66 percent of Americans now drink coffee daily—more than any other beverage (including tap water)—according to the National Coffee Association. However, your morning brew may disrupt your body's ability to absorb certain nutrients. "Caffeine can reduce, or even prevent, the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals—most notably iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B, all of which are essential to a multivitamin's makeup," says Best.
Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea contain compounds called tannins that bind to nutrients (e.g., iron) and inhibit absorption. Also, caffeine increases urination, which can deplete your body's concentration of water-soluble vitamins. So if you drink these popular beverages in the morning, consider taking your multivitamin later in the day, or at least one hour after consuming caffeine. This will ensure your body absorbs as many nutrients as possible.
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Take your multivitamin at the right time of day
When you take your supplements matters, as each vitamin is absorbed differently and plays a specific role in your body. For example, Medical News Today reports that vitamins B1, B12, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and iron are energizing nutrients that are best consumed during the first half of the day. However, other nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and some B-vitamins are better to take in the evenings, as they promote sleep and relaxation. In addition, calcium and iron shouldn't be taken together, as one inhibits the absorption of the other.
"Third-party testing is another way to ensure you're getting a high-quality multivitamin," says Best. "This means the company is taking an extra step in having their product tested for harmful substances, correct nutrient measurements, and bioavailability."
If you take a multivitamin and eat plenty of fortified foods and beverages, such as non-dairy milks, cereals, drinks containing added vitamins and minerals, be careful that your total intake of vitamins and minerals doesn't exceed the safe upper limits for any nutrients—and be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.