Whether you pop a multivitamin daily (or at least when you remember to take one) or you religiously swallow a whole cluster of vitamins that range from A to zinc, there’s no denying that there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding these little pills.
Get the facts behind 10 common supplement-taking scenarios, as well as expert advice on what you should (or shouldn’t) do when it comes to getting the most out of your vitamin supplements.
Situation: You just started taking vitamins and your urine is an orangey yellow.
You think: Yikes, this means I’m peeing out all the good stuff!
The truth: This is actually quite normal when taking multivitamins or B-complex vitamins. “Your urine will often turn a bright yellow or orange color due to the presence of vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin,” says Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., clinical associate professor of medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. The vitamin’s name gives you a hint: Flavin comes from the word flavus, which means yellow. “Your body just excretes what it doesn't need—it’s perfectly harmless,” says Dr. Low Dog. If the color bothers you, simply drink more water to dilute your urine, suggests Esther Blum, R.D., author of Secrets of Gorgeous.
Situation: You hate the taste of most veggies and can barely choke down broccoli.
You think: I’ll just get those nutrients from supplements—it’s the same thing.
The truth: To get all of the healthy, disease-fighting benefits from vegetables, it’s always best to eat the real deal rather than a pop a pill. A recent study from Oregon State University found that an important phytochemical in broccoli and other similar veggies is poorly absorbed and much less beneficial when taken in supplement form. When it comes to these crunchy vegetables—as the song goes—ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.
Situation: You’re still using the same bottle of multivitamins that you’ve had for over a year.
You think: Vitamins don’t really go bad, so it doesn’t matter how old they are.
The truth: You should check that expiration date and buy a new bottle if it’s already past its prime. “Vitamins lose their potency over time, by as much as 10 to 20 percent,” says Susan Dopart, R.D., co-author of A Recipe for Life by The Doctor’s Dietitian. Taking expired vitamins may not be dangerous, but it’s less beneficial—and possibly a waste of time.
Situation: You just found out that you’re pregnant.
You think: Now I should start taking folic acid!
The truth: “You should actually already have adequate levels of folic acid in your system at the time of conception,” says Dr. Low Dog, who recommends starting to take 400 micrograms of folic acid per day at least one month before trying to conceive to reduce the risk of birth defects. That said, since 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, Dr. Low Dog also notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all sexually active women take 400 micrograms of folic acid per day, even if you’re not actively trying to conceive.
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