Wake up, drink coffee, take my vitamins. Does your morning look like this? Mine too. And I felt great about it—until I realized that coffee might be sabotaging my vitamin routine. It turns out that precious cup of Joe is one of a few drinks that can interfere with nutrient absorption, preventing supplements from working at full strength.
Does that mean we all have to quit coffee for the sake of our vitamins? (“Please say no… please say no…”). Well… maybe not. If you take timing and other factors into account, you can enjoy the benefits of both.
So before making any big life choices, I sat down with Brandi Cole, PharmD, a Persona pharmacist and leading expert on dietary supplement interactions. She explained how some of my fave morning drinks can affect nutrient absorption—and what I can do to fix it.
But first, what is nutrient absorption?
Supplements don’t start doing their good work the moment they pass your lips. Instead, they have to go through a series of steps. They pass down your throat, through your stomach and arrive in your small intestine, where specialized cells absorb them into your bloodstream. Your blood delivers nutrients throughout your body to their final destination: your cells. Once inside your cells, some nutrients (the bioavailable ones) can get right to work, while others, like certain forms of folate and B12, first have to be converted into their active, usable forms.
What gets in the way of nutrient absorption?
There are a few things that can interfere with this process:
- Age: the older we get, the harder it is to absorb certain nutrients, especially vitamin B12.
- Gut health: Digestive issues can hinder your ability to fully absorb nutrients from foods and supplements.
- Genetics: Some people are born less able to convert nutrients like folate and vitamin B12 to their active forms.
- Food Allergies: When people with allergies or certain autoimmune diseases—like celiac disease—eat foods they can’t tolerate, the proteins in those foods can affect the lining of the gut, which can in turn affect absorption.
- Anti-nutrients: Natural compounds in certain foods and drinks can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and use the nutrients from supplements like calcium, iron and zinc. These compounds, sometimes referred to as “anti-nutrients” are mostly found in plant-based foods like grains, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables and—importantly—certain drinks.
Drinks to avoid taking with your supplements
So what drinks contain anti-nutrients that make your supplements less effective? There are three big offenders:
- Coffee: The antioxidant compounds found in coffee beans, mainly phytates and tannins, reduce your absorption of minerals, like iron and zinc. This is especially important to keep in mind if you suffer from iron deficiency anemia.
- Green Tea: The oxalates in green tea reduce calcium absorption. It can also decrease folate metabolism, an essential B vitamin that is important for healthy cells.
- Alcohol: Alcohol irritates the lining of your digestive system, which impairs vitamin B12 absorption. It also changes how your body transports, stores, and metabolizes nutrients, preventing them from being fully utilized.
So if you don’t want to quit coffee, then what?
When it comes to supplements, timing is everything, says Cole: “Take your supplements with food and water at least an hour before or after coffee, tea or alcohol.” Even better, consider taking them with a drink that will enhance their effectiveness.
“Take your supplements with food and water at least an hour before or after coffee, tea or alcohol,” recommends Cole.
Drinks that can give your supplements a helping hand
Just as some drinks can sabotage your vitamins, there are others that can give them a leg up. Here are a few drinks that you may want to consider adding to your supplement routine:
- Orange Juice (and its friends): The vitamin C in your morning glass of OJ makes iron easier to absorb. It may even help counteract some other types of compounds that reduce iron absorption, like phytates. Not a fan of OJ? Try tomato juice, pineapple, strawberries, or bell peppers for an alternate source of the vitamin.
- Milk: Calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D work together to support healthy bones. The vitamin D in fortified milk increases calcium and phosphorous absorption in your intestines. It does this by helping your body make a protein, called calbindin, which works to shuttle calcium across your cells. As a bonus, the fat in milk also helps you absorb more fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K. Not a milk drinker? Most plant-based milks are fortified with vitamin D and calcium too, just check the label.
Bottom line: I get to keep my coffee and I’ll get more out of my supplements too, which is exactly why Brandi Cole, PharmD is my favorite pharmacist.
Still worried about supplement interactions?
When it comes to supplements, there’s a lot to consider. Persona’s free nutrition assessment builds a plan for you step by step, looking at your diet, lifestyle, health goals—even your medications—and designs a daily vitamin pack that fits your needs. And it checks every pill against a huge database of supplements and medications, to make sure they won’t interact. “It’s a great place to start,” says Cole. “I truly believe having personalized vitamins that work well together and don’t interact with each other is key.”
Brandi is a registered pharmacist with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, cellular, and molecular biology, and a doctorate in pharmacy. With a background in community pharmacy, she is passionate about patient education when it comes to both medication and natural remedies.
Emily is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in health communications. She is a self-proclaimed nutrition nerd and has a knack for translating nutrition science into everyday tips and resources. Emily is just one of Persona’s team of qualified nutritionists. Do you have questions about nutrition? Reach out. Our experts would love to help.