Now that we're all treating our bodies like temples—or at least have heard of the concept—many of us start the day with a vitamin supplement. But did you know that by following a few simple rules, you can get more out of that one little pill than you otherwise might? Sheah Rarbach, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, provides the following supplement-taking strategies:
Make sure your supplement is up to snuff. To ensure this, look for one that sports the United States Pharmacopia (USP) seal of approval, says Rarbach. "This means it meets certain standards of how it disintegrates and dissolves, as well as meeting guidelines for potency, purity, and freshness."
Swallow your supplements with food. Not all nutrients need to be taken with food—but most do. "Food acts as a buffer," says Rarbach. "If your multivitamin is very potent, you'll feel better taking it with food." Of course, certain types of foods may be required. For example, the fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D) require some dietary fat in order to be absorbed and transitioned into the body. (But don't go crazy—it doesn't take a slice of cheesecake to help the medicine go down; a spoonful of salad dressing on your salad will do.)
Absorb more iron with C. In the same way that dietary fat enables the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin C increases the absorption of iron. So if you're supplementing iron—or even just eating an iron-enriched cereal, spinach salad, or juicy steak—it's a good idea to have a high-in-C food (i.e., a glass of orange juice) on the side.
Divvy up your calcium dosage. Another nutrient that should always be taken with food for absorption purposes is calcium carbonate, the most common form of calcium (and the kind in Tums). Some health professionals even suggest taking your calcium at night to further help your body soak up the benefits, says Rarbach. "This may help it settle into your bones—but we don't know for sure." In any case, if you're taking over 500 mg of calcium, you might as well take half of that dose at night. Since the body can only absorb about 500 mg of calcium at a sitting, it's better to take two doses of 500 than one dose of 1,000.
Get your folic fill with a pill. Make sure that at least part of your entire daily dose of folic acid (400 mcg) is in your multi. Surprisingly enough, folic acid in pill form is better absorbed by the body than folic acid in foods. So it's best to get your folate from a combination of sources.
Take E—naturally. If you're taking vitamin E, make sure it's of the natural (that is, L-alphatocopherol), not synthetic, variety, says Rarbach. The body gets much more out the natural kind.