Do: Be Skeptical
You can't always trust what you see in the vitamin aisle. "There have been a couple of high-profile pieces on things being put into pills that aren't on the label," says Craig Elbert, the CEO of Care/of, a new vitamin subscription service that tailors supplements for you based on your lifestyle and physical needs. "Some companies don't have appropriate quality controls or oversight, either."
"It's great if you can get your vitamins and minerals from food—we encourage people to have diets that are high in leafy greens and nuts."
Care/of is doing things a little differently, starting with being open about their supplements. "We build trust by providing transparency, so we say where the ingredients are sourced from and why they're in the product," Elbert says. Care/of notes each supplement's source (e.g., the calcium is derived from Icelandic red algae), and it gives each ingredient a "grade" on its proven efficacy, ranging from "emerging research" to "strong research" to "traditionally used."
Elbert adds, "We also worked with a scientific advisory board of academics from Harvard and Northwestern, along with doctors, to ensure that we're bringing what science there is in this category." Science is cool, people!
Don't: Rely on a Multivitamin
While the idea of a multivitamin seems convenient and great, you might not be getting all of the nutrients you need from that daily pill. "There are things that aren't commonly in a multivitamin," Elbert says. "For instance, if you have digestive issues, there's a lot of emerging research around probiotics for gut health—those usually aren't in multivitamins."
And if you're deficient in some nutrients—like calcium (which is difficult to condense), vitamin D, or vitamin B12 (that one's for the vegans out there)—it's better to take those specific supplements rather than put all of your trust in one blanket bottle.
Do: Track Your Lifestyle and History
To get a better idea if you should take a specific supplement or not, you need to look at different areas of your life. Each Care/of subscription begins with a questionnaire designed to identify nutritional gaps; the results are then used to customize your vitamin formula. The personal packs from Care/of will even have your name on them!
"We say where the ingredients are sourced from and why they're in the product."
Care/of aims to build a holistic profile of your health needs. "You want to take care of short- and long-term goals," Elbert says. "For instance, I know that three of my four grandparents died of heart conditions, so that's in the back of my mind. Then there's the day-to-day energy, stress, sleeplessness, and digestion."
"We also think about lifestyle," says Elbert. "We look at the status of your diet and exercise, including how much dairy you're getting, how much alcohol you're consuming, and such, because those can affect vitamin efficacy." For those of you who party, take note: "If you're in your 20s and going out and drinking a few nights a week, you could be depleting some of the vitamins in your system."
Don't: Ignore Your Diet
What you eat and drink has an impact on which vitamins you may need. "It's great if you can get your vitamins and minerals from food—we encourage people to have diets that are high in leafy greens and nuts," Elbert says. "But we recognize that people often have gaps in their diets." He uses the example of vegans, who may feel low on energy due to a lack of B12, which is found in animal products.
Do: Build a Routine
Taking vitamins every day might seem like yet another responsibility to keep up with, but try to think of it less as a chore and more as a day-by-day improvement of your life. "We want folks to take vitamins first thing in the morning and build that habit," Elbert says, adding that they should be taken with breakfast (unless it's something like melatonin, which you'd take at night to help you sleep).
Care/of makes it easier to establish the routine by providing daily packs that easily fit into your pocket or bag. So pop them during your work breakfast session or even bring them to Saturday brunch.
"If you're in your 20s and going out and drinking a few nights a week, you could be depleting some of the vitamins in your system."
Don't: Avoid the Doctor
Just because you're taking supplements doesn't mean you can avoid your checkups. "I always recommend that people tell their doctor what they're taking," Elbert says. "This is mostly so your doctor stays informed and also to limit any possible major interactions between vitamins and minerals."
Do: Change Your Vitamins Accordingly
There are simple reasons why you might need to switch up your supplements, says Elbert, like if you change your diet or your lifestyle. And depending on where you live, you're probably victim to a very common deficiency: Elbert says that anyone living in the northern half of the United States should consider taking vitamin D. It's hard to go outside in the sun (which is a source of vitamin D) when it's freezing cold out, right?
Oh, and if you're worried about cold and flu season, Elbert says, "there's a little bit of research showing zinc and elderberry helping with immunity." Just to be clear, that's zinc (with mixed research) from the United States and elderberry (with emerging research and traditionally used) sourced from a farmers' cooperative in the lowlands of Austria. So if you still get a cold even after trying out this combination, at least you'll feel more worldly.