Vitamins and minerals, Man.
They’re pretty sneaky. I’m here to spill the beans about those deceitful little buggers once and for all.
I’m sure many of you take specific vitamin supplements, multivitamins, or you just eat enough variety on a daily basis to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need.
Or do you?
Let’s first chat about the fat soluble vitamins: A,D,E, and K. All of these are extremely important for different reasons, and collectively have effects on your eyesight, bone growth and maintenance, cell health, and blood clotting, to name a few. Are you really getting enough of this group though? Chances are pretty good that most of you reading this are deficient in Vitamin D, as I discussed here. However, if you’re a low-fat eater, a skim-milk drinker, or non-fat cheese eater, you’re risking being low in all of these vitamins. The term fat-soluble means exactly what it sounds like — the body needs fat to absorb and utilize these essential vitamins. So that skim milk you’re drinking? You can basically think about flushing that D riiiiiight down the toilet. Literally. The solution to this is easy: include fat in your diet, especially at times that you are ingesting fruits, veggies, leafy greens, dairy, and other sources of these 4 vitamins.
At least the fat-soluble vitamins put it all right out there on the table, just the name of the group tells you that they need fat to be absorbed.
Some of the other micronutrients aren’t quite so bold and blatant. There are so many vitamin and mineral interactions out there, so I’m not going to list each and every one of them here, because I could go on for days. Instead, I’m going to give you some of the more common ones, but just know that this is not an all-inclusive list!
Vitamin C: Interacts mainly with iron, but in a good way. This vitamin enhances non-heme iron absorption, which is a very good reason to have a little lemon in your water, especially when eating meals that are rich in iron (ie, red meat, dark leafy greens, etc.) There are many things which we will see below that tend to inhibit iron absorption, so boosting the Vitamin C by adding a lemon slice to your water is an easy way to make sure that your body is getting more of the iron that it needs.
Folate and B12 have a synergistic relationship, meaning that they work well together in the body. However, due to this relationship between the nutrients, Folate supplementation can mask B12 deficiency, which can cause nerve damage if left untreated. To make sure that you are not masking a B12 deficiency with Folate, simply stay within the recommended daily amount for Folate (1000 mcg/day for healthy adults), and consume an adequate amount of B12 (2.4 mcg/day).
Magnesium – Many people don’t stop to think about their magnesium levels, but it is very important in regulating Calcium levels in your body. Phytates (found in whole grains and legumes ) and fiber decrease absorption of magnesium, so if supplementing, avoid taking it with whole grains, legumes, or high fiber foods.
These next two are the two that I consider the most important to be conscious of:
Calcium – Vitamin D, Sugars, and Protein all ENHANCE absorption of calcium (Yay!) Because of this, taking a calcium supplement with certain foods and/or lactose may improve it’s availability in the body. However, it does matter what type of food, as there are several that inhibit your body’s ability to absorb calcium. INHIBITING absorption are fiber, phytates, oxalates (found in spinach, rhubarb, beets, eggplant, greens, squash, strawberries, blackberries,blueberries, pecans, peanuts, tea, ovaltine, and cocoa). So long story short, if you are taking a calcium supplement, drinking it with or close to the time of your morning coffee will render it essentially useless. This is especially useful for women, since most of us are calcium deficient anyway. Plan wisely!
Iron – Absorption is limited by phytates, oxalic acid, polyphenols (in tea and coffee), calcium, zinc, manganese, and nickel. Coffee consumption with or just after a meal may reduce iron absorption by 40 %. Iron fortified cereal? Forget about it if you’re drinking coffee at the same time, and if the cereal is made with whole grains (Kashi, anyone?) It is because of this wide range of nutrients that inhibit absorption that it is recommended that if you do supplement your iron intake, it is best to do so on an empty stomach (or with a little bit of Vitamin C, as noted above!) so that your body is able to absorb it properly.
Now keep in mind that if you do take vitamins or multivitamins, most people do tolerate them much better when taken with food, and absorption can be greatly helped with food in the stomach for most vitamins. Just try to be careful, especially in the case of calcium, that they are paired with the right foods (especially if you are deficient already).
Who out there takes vitamins? What supplements do you take? Do you normally take your vitamins with food?