With the array of vitamins, minerals and nutrients available in pill form as you walk to the checkout at your local grocery store or pharmacy, it can be easy to assume that that is the easiest, and best way to up your daily intake of your essential vitamins.
After all, we hear all the time that increasing your intake of Vitamin C will help ward off colds and the nasty winter flu, that your low energy levels may be because you are iron deficient, and to be mindful of getting enough calcium to promote good bone health and to prevent osteoporosis later in life.
But it’s not that simple. Here’s what you need to know about choosing to take your vitamins and minerals via a pill instead of getting them naturally through your food:
- Certain vitamins and minerals can only be absorbed under certain circumstances – For example, iron requires the presence of Vitamin C, and Calcium works in concert with magnesium, while Vitamin D works with calcium and magnesium. When you have these vitamins alone, without the additional nutrients required for absorption, your body can’t absorb them at all, and it’s as if you never even consumed them. In addition, the body absorbs certain vitamins and minerals better with or without food, in the morning or the evening, and within a certain amount of time after eating. While it may seem simple to just pop a pill, doing so at the wrong time or without the right other foods and nutrients may be a waste of your time (and money)!
- If you don’t need the vitamin, you will likely just eliminate it in your urine – In which case, you will literally be throwing money down the toilet! Certain vitamins, such as your B vitamins and Vitamin C, reach a threshold in the body, and then are no longer needed. When you consume these vitamins and the body is at capacity, your body doesn’t absorb them, and instead, sends them along to be eliminated just like other wastes from food. If you notice that your pee is particularly yellow, this can be a good indication that you are eliminating certain vitamins via your urine. In addition, while it is possible to overdose on certain vitamins and minerals, you will typically just send them down the toilet, and your body won’t even use them!
- You aren’t getting as much as you think you are – The milligram or microgram dosage listed on vitamins and minerals is the maximal amount that one could expect to absorb from the consumption of said supplement. But in reality, in order to absorb that amount in its entirety, there are a lot of things that have to align: you need to consume it at the right time, in the presence of all other required absorption nutrients, your body needs to have the right balance of water, sugar and electrolytes (but not too much), you need to have a low enough level within your body that you need to absorb the nutrients, and among other tings, it has to be in a form that your body can actually break down to access the nutrients. And this has to be true each time you take the supplement! You can probably surmise that the chance of all of the circumstances aligning every time you down your supplement is unlikely, and hence you absorb varying amounts of nutrients each time.
In the end, while supplementing is good if you know you are particularly low in certain nutrients, and are under the supervision of a professional who can assure you are taking it correctly, it is far more efficient to eat a balanced diet and work to get your nutrients through food. Your body absorbs it much more efficiently and it is in a much more usable form.