Ask the Wellness Educator: Taking Vitamins and Minerals with or without Food

Taking Vitamins and Minerals with or without Food

Dear Wellness Team:

Which vitamins and minerals should be taken with or without food? In general, approximately how many different vitamins and minerals should you take at one time? In other words, what is the maximum amount of supplements your body can absorb at one time?

Dr. Jen's Answer:

Most vitamins and minerals are best taken with food, for a few reasons. With food, it is less likely they will cause any GI upset. Eating also stimulates the release of enzymes, which aid in the absorption of nutrients. When we eat, gastric acid (HCl) is secreted, and it helps dissociate minerals and improve their absorption. For example, acid helps release calcium from carbonate. Fat-soluble vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K are absorbed most optimally when taken with foods with fat to trigger lipase release. Because whole foods offer our greatest source of nutrients, taking vitamins and minerals with food is generally the way that nature intended it.

There are some potential interactions between food and nutrients to acknowledge. High-fiber foods can bind minerals; therefore, taking a large dose of magnesium with your bran cereal in the morning may not be the best idea. Phytates (nuts, seeds, and beans) and oxalates (leafy greens) will also weakly bind minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron to slow absorption.

Minerals that are taken in high doses, such as calcium and magnesium, may compete for absorption with other minerals, so those can be taken away from other minerals to prevent competition. Certain nutrients enhance the absorption of others. Vitamin D and vitamin K increase calcium absorption into the bone. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron.

Lastly, but possibly most significantly, the form of the vitamin is significant to the level of absorption. For example, calcium citrate is better absorbed than calcium carbonate. Please see the NEEDS blog to read a wide variety of articles that discuss the best forms of vitamins.

There aren't a lot of hard and fast rules about nutrient absorption. Science still has a lot to learn and biochemical individuality will play a role. The best bet is to take your nutrients in moderation and eat a whole-foods based diet to reach optimal health!


Dr. Jen Morganti