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Expired Vitamins are Okay, and 4 Other Things You Didn't Know About Nutrients

From taking expired supplements to knowing the best cooking methods for nutritional value, here's what you need to know about getting the right vitamins.

By Allison Futterman; Medically Reviewed by Dr. Ahmad Talha Azam
Apr 10, 2024 1:00 PM
multiple vitamins on a wooden spoon
(Credit: Lallapie/Shutterstock)


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In 1912, Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk isolated a chemical compound he thought gave brown rice its protective properties. He coined the phrase "vitamin,” to describe it. Funk realized there were probably other compounds that had potential to fight certain health deficiencies. Between the time of his discovery, until 1948, all essential vitamins were identified. By the 1950s, mass production of vitamin supplements had begun, including the concept of a multivitamin. This marked the beginning of an era where obtaining nutrition became more accessible, though not without its complexities.

Today, multivitamins have become a staple in the daily health regimen of millions worldwide. They’re a way to obtain the nutrition you may not be getting from food — although food is always a better source, whenever possible. Multivitamins are usually cost-effective, as opposed to taking individual vitamins, but there are some things you should know before taking them.

1. You Can Take Expired Vitamins

Just like prescription medications, vitamins have expiration dates. But there are a couple of differences. Vitamin manufacturers aren’t required to include an expiration date. Another distinction is that certain prescriptions can be dangerous to consume after they’ve expired. Vitamins don’t go bad or become harmful after they’ve expired. 

They simply become less potent and won’t provide their full nutritional benefit. Typically, vitamins are fine to take up to two years after the expiration date. In general, vitamins in tablet form have a longer shelf life than gummies/chewable. 

Read More: Dietary Supplements Are No Substitute For a Healthy Lifestyle

2. Not All Multivitamins are Best for Everyone 

While multivitamins can be a convenient way to supplement dietary nutrition, they're not an optimal choice for everyone. There are different formulas targeted to specific populations, including multivitamins tailored to men, women, older adults, and pregnant people. 

Be mindful of their composition. Some multivitamins include levels much higher than recommended daily value. A note of caution for current/former smokers: avoid multivitamins with large amounts of Vitamin A and beta-carotene, as they can increase lung cancer risk. It's best to consult with a healthcare professional before taking vitamins.

Read More: It's Tricky to Know Which Supplements Are Safe

3. The Difference Between Water and Fat Soluble Vitamins Matters

Water soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are absorbed quickly by the body, with the excess being eliminated in urine. These types of vitamins, such as vitamin C and vitamin B complex, need to be replenished frequently.

Fat soluble vitamins are absorbed by the small intestines, with any excess stored in the liver and fatty tissues. These vitamins are best taken with food that contains fat. Out of the 13 recognized vitamins, only four are fat soluble: A, D, E, and K. Because they’re stored in the body, they can build up and cause health issues when taken in large amounts.  

Read More: Do Multivitamins Work and How Do You Know If You Need One?

4. Some Vitamins are Dangerous in High Amounts

Certain vitamins can become toxic and/or cause serious adverse effects when taken long-term in high doses. 

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Symptoms of niacin toxicity include flushed skin, itching sensations, feelings of nausea, headaches, vomiting episodes, dizziness, and pain in the upper abdomen.

Vitamin A

Signs of dangerous vitamin A levels include headache, irritability, stomach pain, vomiting, rash, vision changes, and drowsiness.

Vitamin E

Excessive supplementation of vitamin E can increase bleeding risk. This is especially important to consider for people taking blood thinners. 

Read More: Strange Side Effects From Supplements and What You Need to Know

5. Cooking Methods Impact Nutritional Value

When food is cooked in water, the vitamins and nutrients are often diminished — in some cases, significantly. One study showed that boiling vegetables led to the lowest retention rates for vitamin C, particularly in chard.

Cooking methods including roasting, grilling, stir frying, and microwaving help to retain vitamins and other healthy nutrients in food. Water soluble vitamins are more easily affected by cooking methods than fat soluble vitamins. If boiling is your preferred way to cook vegetables, you can use the cooking liquid in a soup or a sauce. This way, you’ll reap the benefits from the vitamins that were boiled out. 

Read More: Cooked Veggies Are Often More Nutritious Than Raw. Here's Why

This article is not offering medical advice and should be used for informational purposes only.

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Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review them for accuracy and trustworthiness. Review the sources used below for this article:

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