A Moment of Science

Don’t Forget Your Vitamins

Have you ever eyed a plate of boiled spinach and wondered whether it’s better to get your vitamins from food or from pills? The good news is that over the past hundred years, pharmaceutical manufacturers have managed to identify the most useful and stable forms of each vitamin; so, if we’re strictly speaking about vitamins, in most cases pills are just as effective as food.

You’re probably wondering how that can be when vitamin pills are synthetic, and boiled spinach is all natural. Well, when it comes to vitamins, synthetic doesn’t mean inferior. Even pills touted as all-natural contain some synthetics–otherwise they’d be the size of golf balls. There are some vitamins, like vitamin E, that are absorbed more easily in their natural form, but you can get them in pill form too. You just have to look for them.

In general, when you’re shopping for vitamins, don’t be fooled by fancy supplements. Just make sure the pill you’re choosing contains one hundred percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and nutrients. It’s also important to check whether the box has a USP symbol, which means the pills have been shown to dissolve well in your stomach. If the pills dissolve well, chances are they’re also absorbed well too.

Keep in mind, however, that it is possible to get too much of a nutrient, which is why the government has published the upper levels on the amounts you can safely consume. Second, some vitamins are better absorbed when they’re in certain foods. For example, your body absorbs iron better when you take it with some orange juice.

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