If you maintain a relatively balanced diet, a multivitamin each morning may be enough to cover any nutrient gaps. If you’re aware of and want to target specific deficiencies, use this easy-to-follow guide for taking your supplements when they can be most effective.

See also Supplements: A Starter Course 

MORNING

MULTIVITAMIN
Fills the gaps in your diet and delivers the nutrients you can’t get from food
IF your diet is less than balanced or you avoid entire food groups (meat, dairy, grains)
TAKE with a breakfast that contains healthy oils such as avocado or eggs. These healthy fats will help deliver the nutrients to your body.
DID YOU KNOW? In addition to vitamins, multis also often contain folic acid, zinc and iron.
KEEP IN MIND: Multivitamins can be targeted to the specific needs of a particular demographic group. Here’s how the various formulas differ:

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Women’s: higher levels of vitamins C and E and lower levels of iron for women over 55
Men’s: high levels of vitamins A, D and E
Prenatal: higher levels of folic acid to protect against birth defects
Children’s: D3 for immunity and omega-3s for brain development

See also The Best Vitamins and Supplements for Kids 

PROBIOTICS
“Good” bacteria that support digestive regularity
IF you suffer from constipation, gas, stomachaches
TAKE before breakfast on an empty stomach.
DID YOU KNOW? In 2011, Americans spent $28 billion on probiotic foods (yogurt) and supplements.

B COMPLEX
A collection of eight vitamins that help convert your food into usable energy
IF you often feel slow or sluggish in the mornings
TAKE it first thing in the morning, before or with breakfast.
BONUS: You might find a daily B vitamin will replace your morning coffee habit.

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MORNING/AFTERNOON

COQ10
An antioxidant that protects cells against damage and promotes heart health
IF you have a family history of or are at risk for heart or cardiovascular disease
TAKE with a breakfast that contains healthy oils such as avocado or eggs.

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IODINE
A chemical element crucial for thyroid health and female fertility
IF you are pregnant—iodine deficiencies can cause high blood pressure in mothers and mental retardation in babies—or if you have goiter or other thyroid disorders
TAKE with food before 1 or 2 in the afternoon, as it can increase energy and make it difficult to sleep if taken late in the day.

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ZINC
An essential trace element crucial for immunity, cell growth and prostate health
IF you’re a vegetarian or don’t eat a lot of legumes, nuts or dairy, or if you are at risk for prostate disease
TAKE with a meal. Too much zinc on an empty stomach can cause nausea.

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AFTERNOON/EVENING

IRON
A mineral that produces red blood cells that move oxygen through the body
IF you exercise intensely, are pregnant or breast-feeding, or eat a vegetarian or vegan diet
TAKE a low dose to start, and pair it with extra fiber to avoid constipation.
DID YOU KNOW? 10% of women are iron deficient.

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FIBER
Promotes digestive regularity
IF you eat a diet low in fruits and vegetables
TAKE with at least 8 ounces of water and at least two hours before or after taking medications and other supplements to avoid interactions.
DID YOU KNOW? Insoluble fiber isn’t digestible; it acts like a mop that moves waste through your digestive tract.

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OMEGA-3S
Healthy fatty acids found in cold-water fish, nuts and seeds that may protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression and asthma
IF you don’t eat enough seafood
TAKE with lunch or an afternoon snack to aid absorption.
DID YOU KNOW? You should store fish oil in the refrigerator.

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EVENING/NIGHT

VITAMIN D & CALCIUM
Important for bone density and muscle health
IF you don’t get some sun exposure every day or you’re over 50, you need a vitamin D supplement to make sure your body can absorb the calcium you eat or take as a supplement.

IF you don’t eat dairy or if you have high sodium intake, you might not be getting enough calcium and need to supplement.
TAKE your calcium and vitamin D supplements together. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.
DID YOU KNOW? As little as 10 minutes in the sun daily can protect against a vitamin D deficiency.

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See also The Best Supplements for Seniors

MAGNESIUM
An element crucial for healthy bones and teeth
IF you suffer from fatigue, anxiety, heartburn and/or constipation, or if you don’t get enough dietary magnesium from dark greens, nuts and beans
TAKE at the same time you take calcium. The two work best in combination to support teeth and muscles. The pairing also prevents the constipation that calcium on its own can cause.

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WATER SOLUBLE VS. FAT SOLUBLE

Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed by fat globules that enter your bloodstream and are stored in your tissue until your body needs them. If fat-soluble vitamins accumulate in excess, they can damage tissues. Water-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, cannot be stored in your body—whatever you don’t use immediately is excreted.

HELPFUL RESOURCES
1. IOM.EDU/DRI the Institute of Medicine’s website provides the dietary reference intakes (DRI) for vitamins and elements.
2. FNIC.NAL.USDA.GOV the Food and Nutrition Information Center provides general intel about dietary supplements.
3. NCCAM.NIH.GOV the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s recent studies and data.

SOURCESNational Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements; Vitamin D Council; National Osteoporosis Foundation; Centers for Disease Control; Institute of Medicine