Taking Vitamins With Food Vs. Without Food

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Certain vitamins are best taken with food; others work better when taken on an empty stomach. (Image: Oleg Elkov/iStock/GettyImages)

Some vitamin and mineral supplements are best taken with food; at other times, it's fine to take vitamins on an empty stomach. But it's best to have a little knowledge when you’re planning on taking individual vitamin and mineral supplements before you start to take them daily. Then you’ll know how best to incorporate them into your daily life.

Vitamins With Food

Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat soluble. The body absorbs these better when taken with a fatty food. Milk, yogurt and avocado are examples of good choices. You can buy vitamin D3 in tablets that also contain oil, which may be easier if you want the convenience of taking the vitamin without food.

A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that men absorb 32 percent more vitamin D3 when taking it with a meal containing fat as opposed to taking it with a fat-free meal.

Other fat-soluble supplements are CoQ10; curcumin, which comes from turmeric; and fish oil. You can also buy CoQ10 and curcumin that are specially made to be more water soluble.

Why Take Supplements With Food?

Some supplements are best taken with food. It may be that the supplement is best absorbed with fat, and the best way to consume fat with a supplement is to eat something with a little fat in it. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, for example, often contain Boswellia serrata extract. This is fat soluble and enhanced when taken with fatty foods.

Other vitamins and supplements may help reduce diarrhea and are easier on the stomach when taken with food. These are often easily absorbed by the body whether taken with food or on an empty stomach, but for people with sensitive stomachs, food makes the process easier.

Taking Fat-Soluble Vitamins Together

Taking fat-soluble vitamins together may leave your stomach feeling queasy, even when taken with food. If this happens, you may want to experiment with taking vitamins that don't exceed the recommended daily allowance for each.

Calcium can be taken with food and so can zinc, although zinc shouldn't be taken with dairy foods because this can reduce its absorption.

What About Multivitamins?

Multivitamins are best taken with food and plenty of water. It’s preferable to eat a meal with a multivitamin and lunch is a good time. Also, nutrients often work best when paired with other nutrients, so a meal boosts your chances of this happening. If you find it's best to take your multivitamin with only water, however, the effectiveness doesn't drop that much. If you're not getting all your vitamins from your diet, it's better to take a multivitamin than not.

Vitamins and Iron on an Empty Stomach

Iron is better taken on an empty stomach, with water or orange juice. It shouldn't be taken with calcium and vitamin E. If taking iron (or other vitamins) on an empty stomach causes stomach irritation, try eating a very light snack.

Most water-soluble vitamins can be taken on an empty stomach if you can tolerate it. That’s because your body only takes in what it needs and the rest is excreted through urine. These include vitamin C and the B vitamins. Taking them with food won't decrease their effectiveness.

It's always best to consult with your doctor when adding or changing your vitamins and supplements to make sure your body will benefit.

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