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There are a lot of supplements on the shelves. But Which ones matter, and how should you take your supplements?

Well, now is as good a time as any to confess that the title of this article is a trick question. The best way to take your vitamins and minerals is as food. Why?

Imagine a couple of vitamins and minerals you need. Let's say, Vitamin C and iron. Iron is absorbed better if it's taken with Vitamin C, and it's one of the problems associated with iron supplementation that iron isn't absorbed very well from tablets. Ideally it would be taken with folate and Vitamin B12 too. There's  a great place you can get all that - highly bioavailable haem iron, B12, folate, and Vitamin C. It's called liver. If you prefer plant sources, cruciferous vegetables are a good option.

With that in mind, let's talk about the best supplement: food. If you want to take adequate supplementation you'd need to watch things like your fiber intake, and you'd need to take account of the fact that many nutrients 'potentiate' each other - that is, they make each other work, or they make each other work better.

The best system of supplementation is therefore to work high-nutrient foods into your diet.

Let's look at some key nutrients and figure out where the best place to get them really is.

1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is involved in collagen synthesis - and collagen is everywhere. It's under your skin and in your lips, in your joints and your bones, in your muscles and your circulatory system: everywhere. Vitamin C also improves absorption of iron and is involved in protein synthesis. It's quite important.

So where should you get it? You can take it as a supplement, but it's better to get it from foods. 

Vitamin C rich foods

These include citrus fruits, the 'go-to' Vitamin C source. However, most plant foods are quite rich in Vitamin C. It can even be found in fresh red meat in quantities sufficient to prevent scurvy, and liver is an especially good source. One of the richest plant sources is strawberries! Brightly colored vegetables and fruits like blueberries, bell peppers, papaya and sweet potatoes, chard, collard greens and spinach are all excellent sources, the more so since their Vitamin C and polyphenols potentiate each other.

Interestingly, limes — the reason British sailors and eventually all Brits came to be called Limeys by Americans — are actually lower in Vitamin C than lemons. If the Admiralty had been less eager to save a shilling or two, you'd be calling us Lemonies. 

2. Calcium

Calcium is important for bone health. That's the most well-known reason to eat plenty of calcium. But it has important benefits for blood health and the proper functioning of the nervous system too.

Calcium can be taken as a supplement, but it isn't absorbed without Vitamin D.

And where do you get that? From foods that also contain calcium, ideally.

Calcium-rich foods

The first port of call is milk. And milk has both calcium and Vitamin D, so it's a good option. You can also pick up calcium from kale and other leafy dark green vegetables, though they're far lower in Vitamin D than milk. If you're getting adequate sun exposure Vitamin D isn't going to be too big an issue. And dark green leafy vegetables have other benefits too, notably that they offer plentiful magnesium and Vitamin K2, also essential for bone and general health.

Calcium comes from the Latin "calx" and was discovered by Humphry Davy. In the same way that we don;t eat iron in the form of nails, we don't eat pure calcium either — because when it touches water, the pure metal explodes.

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