It's easy to give your body the vitamins and minerals it craves. By Karen Asp, Redbook
One of the most important things you can do for your health takes only a few seconds each day: Down a multivitamin. "Think of it as nutritional insurance," says Lisa Hark, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and coauthor of Nutrition for Life. True, your body absorbs vitamins and minerals more easily from food, but on those days when you eat more French fries than French-style green beans, your multi will help fill in the nutritional blanks. Here's how to make one work for you.
Look for a multi that contains 100 percent of your daily needs for vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B12, C, D, E, folic acid and the minerals iron and zinc.
It should also have 70 percent of your daily vitamin A requirement and at least 15 percent of your calcium. Most multis don't contain more vitamin A because it's abundant in food -- and getting more than three times what you need may cause birth defects in women who are pregnant. As for bone-building calcium, your multi would have to be the size of a horse pill to contain 100 percent of your daily requirement. Multis formulated for women, however, such as One-A-Day Women's, may have as much as 45 percent. Consume the rest of your calcium via low-fat dairy products (a cup of skim milk has a third of your day's needs) or a calcium supplement.
Except for calcium, you probably don't need to take an extra pill to get a vitamin that's already in your multi.
"Nutrients work in tandem and aren't as effective when taken alone," says Andrew Shao, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition in Washington, DC. Plus, experts don't recommend getting more than 100 percent of any vitamin from a supplement -- doing so may cause negative side effects ranging from vomiting to kidney stones. If you want additional nutrients, eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; you can't ever overdose on their natural vitamins, Hark says.
Vitamins are sold in opaque containers because light can destroy their effectiveness.
And pay attention to the expiration date, says Laura Biron, R.D., a nutritionist in Stowe, VT. Supplements can lose their potency over time.
Just as your body absorbs nutrients better from food, it also absorbs your multi better with food.
Try taking it with one of these superfoods:
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt (57 percent vitamin B12, 40 percent riboflavin, 37 percent calcium, 20 percent zinc, 15 percent selenium, 10 percent magnesium)
1/2 cup cooked spinach (33 percent folate, 25 percent magnesium, 19 percent riboflavin, 18 percent iron, 17 percent vitamin B6, 12 percent calcium and vitamin C, 9 percent zinc, 8 percent thiamin, 6 percent vitamin E)
1 cup steamed broccoli (205 percent vitamin C, 10 percent folate, 10 percent calcium)
1 oz. almonds (46 percent vitamin E, 20 percent magnesium, 17 percent riboflavin, 13 percent iron).
A plays a crucial role in vision and may protect against some cancers.
B1, B2 and B3 help your body process carbs and protein.
B12 may reduce your risk of osteoporosis and Alzheimer's.
C keeps skin supple and helps your body absorb iron.
Calcium helps maintain strong bones, thus protecting against osteoporosis, and may aid in weight loss. In one study, people who ate three servings a day of low-fat yogurt lost 60 percent more fat than those who didn't eat dairy.
D aids your body's calcium absorption.
E helps your brain and eyes stave off disease. It may also decrease the risk of death from heart disease.
Folic acid may lower blood pressure, and taking it before conception and while pregnant can slash birth-defect risk by as much as 70 percent. Note: This is the only nutrient your body actually absorbs better from a pill than from food.
Iron combats fatigue and increases blood circulation.
Zinc is necessary for maintaining your sense of smell and healing wounds. Some studies have found that taking zinc can shorten the duration of the common cold, too.