Are You Taking Your Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Correctly? By Lori Skurbe

Are You Taking Your Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Correctly?


Many people take vitamin and mineral supplements for a variety of reasons. We might think just taking them is enough, but did you know how and when you take your supplements can make a difference in how you tolerate and absorb them?  For best absorption and tolerance consider the following:

Larger Doses

If you are taking calcium, which usually is 400 mg – 600 mg per dose, and take it with other minerals, such as iron, it can affect how much is absorbed. It is recommended to take calcium separately from other minerals for best absorption. Remember this includes a multivitamin which contains both vitamins AND minerals. Separate foods high in calcium such as milk (yogurt, cheese) from iron to not affect the absorption. Try to separate calcium from other minerals by at least 2 hours.

Fat Soluble vs Water Soluble Vitamins

Vitamin C and all your B vitamins are water soluble meaning they are not easily stored in the body and what we do not use usually get flushed out in our urine. Water-soluble vitamins can be taken at any time and some suggest taking them with water for best absorption. 

Fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, K, and E, can be stored in the body and ideally should be taken with some fat for best absorption.  You do not need a lot of fat.  Four to eight grams of fat (this can be found in 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil or other heart-healthy oil such as avocado oil) is enough to enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. 

Vitamins and minerals working together

Certain vitamins and minerals can work together. Iron and vitamin C work together to increase the absorption of iron into your body. It is important to consume foods high in vitamin C (such as red and green peppers, strawberries, kiwis, oranges, broccoli, Brussel sprouts) when eating foods high in iron (lean red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, beef, eggs, chicken). Some iron supplements also come combined with vitamin C.

Also, calcium and vitamin D work together for best absorption – that is why you often see these two nutrients together in the same supplement. Your body needs vitamin D to help absorb the calcium.

Conversely, some vitamins and minerals work against each other if taken at the same time, such as iron and calcium as noted above.

Vitamin and minerals with medications

We often think vitamin and mineral supplements are innocuous. However, certain vitamin and mineral supplements can interact with certain over-the-counter and prescription medications. Some vitamins and minerals can decrease the absorption of some medications or vice versa. Carefully read the packaging information on all over-the-counter and prescription medications you take to see if there are any notifications about taking vitamins or minerals along with your medications. If you are not sure, it is a good idea to speak to your pharmacist or doctor for more information.

Minimize Stomach Upset

Taking vitamin and mineral supplements can cause gastrointestinal issues for some people.  Magnesium (which can cause diarrhea) and iron (which can cause stomach upset) in particular are known to have these side effects. It is suggested to take magnesium with food to decrease the chance of having diarrhea and to take iron after a meal to minimize stomach upset. 

Read the Supplement Facts Panel

Finally, read the supplement facts panel, which should be on all vitamin and mineral supplements. Check the serving size. Many times, people do not read this important information and may be taking the wrong amount. 

It is important to understand the best way to take vitamin and mineral supplements to absorb them and avoid interactions with medications or other vitamins and minerals. Read labels carefully and if you are still not sure, speak to a pharmacist or doctor for clarity.