Melissa Dorval, R.D.
National data shows numerous nutrient shortfalls in the American diet.1 Taking supplements is an important way to meet nutrient needs and fill gaps that may be present in your diet. The timing of when we take vitamins, though, can be as vital as the fact that we take them. To ensure that we get the most out of vitamins and supplements when is the best time to take them? We asked Melissa Dorval, R.D., to help us understand when the best time is to take vitamins and supplements.
Q: Why should certain supplements be taken at different times of the day?
MD: Some vitamins and supplements should be taken with food or a meal for best absorption while you may need to take others on an empty stomach.
Q: What supplements should be taken in the morning, before I've eaten?
MD: We recommend that you take SAM-e on an empty stomach at least 30 minutes before you consume food. This is most convenient when you first wake up in the morning, as your stomach is most empty at this time. If you are taking a second dose of this product, try to find a time that your stomach is most empty—at least one hour after you've consumed food—and wait at least 30 minutes before you eat after you've taken your afternoon dose. Remember not to take SAM-e too close to bedtime, as it may increase your energy level which may interfere with a restful sleep.
Q: Which supplements should be taken with breakfast?
MD: Most all of your supplements can be taken with your breakfast meal. This includes your daily multivitamin, B-Complex, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C in addition to others. Not only will this help to start your day off right, but the breakfast meal is often a convenient time to remember to take your vitamins, as many of us consume our morning meal in our homes. In addition, the B vitamins in your multi and B-complex will help to convert food to cellular energy, which can help you start your day off right. There is one caveat, however. We do not recommend taking Calcium along with your multivitamin if your multi contains iron. The calcium may interfere with the iron's absorption. If you take an iron containing multivitamin with your breakfast meal, take your calcium with the other meals you consume throughout the day, such as lunch and dinner. You may also be interested to know that vitamin C helps increase the absorption of iron, so keep drinking your orange juice for breakfast or take a vitamin C supplement with your iron.
Q: What supplements should be taken with, before and after lunch?
MD: If lunch is a more convenient time for you to take your vitamins and supplements, then go ahead and consume your multivitamin, B-complex, Vitamin E, Vitamin C or any other vitamins at this time. The most important point is that you consume your vitamins and supplements with food, to help with proper dissolution and absorption. If it is easier for you to remember to take your vitamins at lunch, then go ahead and do so. Many multivitamins do contain a small amount of calcium. The small amount of calcium in the multi should not affect iron absorption. However, remember to take your calcium supplement separate from your multivitamin with iron.
Q: What supplements should be taken before, after or during dinner?
MD: Calcium supplements can be taken with dinner, or hours after dinner before bed. Supplemental calcium is best in smaller, more frequent doses to support absorption. The form of calcium you are taking determines if you should take it with a meal or snack, or on an empty stomach. Calcium carbonate requires the presence of food for better absorption. Your calcium carbonate supplement may be taken with dinner, as well as earlier in the day with another meal such as lunch. On the other hand, calcium citrate can be taken with or without food, and does not require food or stomach acid for absorption. Therefore, you can take calcium citrate at bedtime on an empty stomach, and also in between meals during the day. We would hope that you would have taken your other vitamins and supplements earlier in the day, rather than waiting for your dinner meal. You should enjoy the benefits of the vitamins and supplements during your waking hours!
1. Fulgoni et al. Food, Fortificants, and Supplements: Where Do Americans Get Their Nutrients? J Nutr. 2011; 141:1847-54.
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