7 Health Supplements That Work Better Together
Getting our daily vitamins is a tricky business to begin with—aside from the difficulty for some of us to remember to choke back a few pills on a daily basis, it's also not always easy to know which additional nutrients are specifically necessary for your body. So pardon us for throwing yet another wrench into this daily ritual: It turns out there's a science to taking supplements since the body can't metabolise certain vitamins unless others are present.
"Certain nutrients are better absorbed when paired together," explains dietician Keri Glassman, founder of Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School. Take calcium, for example: If you're taking calcium supplements but are deficient in vitamin D—which nearly 1 in 2 of us are—you're basically rendering those capsules useless, since the body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. On the flip side, you can maximise the benefits of vitamins A, D, K, and E by consuming them with nuts, fish, or coconut oil, since they're fat-soluble.
On that note, Glassman adds that while taking supplements in pill form is helpful, getting your nutrients via your diet should be the priority. "Food always wins as there are many nutrients involved in the absorption process. And, supplements should do just that: supplement the diet. If you are looking to maximise absorption you may want to supplement but you should also be first and foremost consuming proper foods and think about food pairing. For example, spinach (iron) and tomatoes (vitamin C)."
Below, we break down four ideal supplement pairings—as well as the foods rich in those nutrients, so you can take the ideal holistic approach. Keep scrolling to see how to make the most of your supplements, as well as the pairings to avoid.
In order to better absorb iron, your best bet is to pair it with vitamin C, says Glassman—especially if you're getting your iron from plant sources like spinach, which is harder for the body to absorb than meat-based iron. (This is particularly noteworthy if you're prone to anemia or have heavy periods, which could deplete your iron levels.)
Dietary sources of iron: beef, lamb, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, tofu, sunflower seeds, whole grains.
Dietary sources of vitamin C: citrus fruits, pineapple, rockmelon, dark leafy greens, capsicums, tomatoes, berries.
Or take them in supplement form:
Your body can't absorb calcium without sufficient vitamin D—something that's cause for real concern, considering that as much as 50% of the adult population is deficient in vitamin D. (The rates are even higher in urban environments.) Since it's exceedingly difficult to get sufficient vitamin D through diet alone, your best bet is to take a daily supplement and expose yourself to sunlight on a daily basis, especially in the winter. (Vitamin D deficiency has close ties with depression, which is why Seasonal Affective Disorder is so common during the colder months.)
Another thing to note about calcium: "It may compete with other minerals for absorption in the body, so it's best to take calcium at a different time of day than other supplements or multivitamins," Glassman says. "Also, you won't absorb more than 500 mg at a time so it is best to split up your calcium pills— one in the morning and one in the evening."
Dietary sources of calcium: milk, yoghurt, cheese, leafy greens, legumes, broccoli, almonds.
Dietary sources of vitamin D: tuna, salmon, cheese, egg yolks, vitamin D–fortified dairy.
Shop Calcium and Vitamin D
"They work together to support the most basic functions of the body: cell division and replication," Glassman says. "Folate, which is a B vitamin, depends on B12 to be absorbed." (Vegans and vegetarians ought to take note that it's also tricky to find plant sources of B12, making deficiency fairly common—which can lead to conditions like anemia if left untreated.)
Dietary sources of vitamin B12: fish, red meat, dairy, cheese, eggs, nutritional yeast, vitamin B12-fortified almond milk and cereal.
Dietary sources of folate: leafy green vegetables, broccoli, legumes, rockmelon.
Shop Vitamin B12 and Folate
A more isolated form of folate, folic acid also helps regenerate new cells and prevent DNA mutations. (It's also believed to aid with hair growth, hence the popularity of folic acid-rich prenatal vitamins among those who aren't expecting.) Vitamin C aids with its absorption.
Dietary sources of folic acid: leafy greens, citrus fruits, legumes, breads, rice, pasta.
Dietary sources of vitamin C: citrus fruits, pineapple, rockmelon, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, tomatoes, berries.