Navigating the maze of multivitamins at the grocery store can be overwhelming. You can zero in on a multivitamin that’s right for you with a bit of research.
As kids, many of us took daily chewable multivitamins, and for a lot of us, that habit has continued into adulthood – about one-third of adults take multivitamins.
Some people take multivitamins for the comfort of knowing they’re filling potential nutrient gaps. Others take them with the belief that they’re boosting their immune system, improving their brain function or skin tone, or enhancing hair health or health in general.
People who benefit from taking an appropriate multivitamin include:
- Those who are eating or absorbing fewer calories (dieters, for example)
- Some older individuals
- People who have undergone bariatric surgery
Some multivitamins claim to support heart health, but results from the Physicians’ Health Study II and Women’s Health Study suggest that long-term use of multivitamins does not reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, or cardiovascular mortality. Additionally, a recent meta-analysis that included 18 studies, 2,099,262 participants, and 18,363,326 person-years, reported that multivitamins did not lower the incidence of stroke or mortality from stroke, cardiovascular or coronary heart disease.
Choosing A Multivitamin
It’s ultimately up to you to determine whether taking a multivitamin is right for you. There are many options out there – a trip down the vitamin aisle at your local store might conjure up images of standing before some kind of elaborate 3D periodic table – so here are the following guidelines to help navigate the multivitamin maze. Look for:
1. USP Verification
The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention – an independent, nonprofit organization – determines whether dietary supplements are pure and contain the ingredients they list on their labels. The organization uses a particular seal, which is pictured at the top of this page. Don’t be fooled by labels that simply use the letters “USP.” Check your multivitamin online to ensure it is USP verified. Additional resources for checking your supplement include Consumerlab, which evaluates dietary supplements for purity and contamination, and NSF International, which certifies supplement content.
2. Appropriate Daily Values Of Ingredients
Choose a multivitamin with 100% of the daily value of most of its ingredients. Some nutrients, such as calcium, can’t be included in a multivitamin at 100% – if it was, the multivitamin would be too large to swallow. Magnesium and potassium levels are kept low to avoid drug-nutrient interactions, so we need to get these nutrients primarily through our diet. Keep in mind, too, that exceeding 100% of the daily value of certain nutrients is not helpful. Some nutrients – like vitamins A, D, E, and K – can build up in the body and become toxic.
3. The Right Balance For Your Age And Sex
Nutrient needs vary depending on gender and age. For example, premenopausal women need more iron, while older adults need more calcium, vitamin D, and B6. A dietitian or your family doctor can help you determine how many specific nutrients you need for your age and gender.
4. Essential Micronutrients
Your body needs micronutrients to keep your systems humming. Besides well-known nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium, a good multivitamin will include:
- Thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin
- B6, B12, and folate
- Calcium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc
- Vitamins A (including beta carotene), E, and K
- Vitamin D2 or D3
You can skip multivitamins that are made with additional micronutrients for which there are no recommended daily values (for example boron, nickel, and tin).
Shopping for and eating healthy foods regularly is the key to getting the nutrients you need.
The Nutrients You Need
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, American diets often lack calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber. Most multivitamins contain 100% of the daily value of vitamin D but have limited amounts of calcium and potassium and no fiber. Therefore, even if you take it, it’s important to consume foods rich in these nutrients:
- Calcium: Low-fat milk, cheese, and yoghourt; calcium-fortified, plant-based kinds of milk; orange juice; cereals; tofu (prepared with calcium citrate); and almonds
- Vitamin D: salmon, enriched milk (cow or plant-based), fortified orange juice, or cereals and yoghourt
- Potassium: Beans and legumes; potatoes; low-fat milk and yoghourt; lower-sodium canned tomato products; fruits; and lamb, pork, and fish
- Fiber: Beans and legumes; nuts and seeds; oats and whole grains; and fruits and vegetables
- Magnesium: Nuts and seeds, avocado, spinach, dry beans, whole grains, and oats.
What About Gummy Vitamins?
Preliminary research suggests the median doses of vitamins are often higher than the recommended amounts in gummy versions. Manufacturers are aware that degradation is more likely in the gummy form, so a higher concentration of vitamins may be added to account for this anticipated loss. In addition, iron is omitted due to its metallic taste.
Gummy vitamins may be helpful for those who have difficulty swallowing health and wellness supplements, but keep in mind that quality may be less consistent due to manufacturing challenges and that they typically contain sugar or sugar alcohol, so calories will be present.
When To Take Your Multivitamin?
Generally, the time of day you take your multivitamin is not important. However, taking it with food may minimize stomach discomfort and aid in absorption. In addition, supplemental calcium and iron bind together in the gastrointestinal tract. For optimal absorption of a calcium supplement, avoid taking it with your multivitamin, and if you take Synthroid, take it four hours before or after your supplement for optimal effectiveness.
How To Determine The Quality?
For a high-quality, you want to look at absorbable ingredients. Here are some questions you can ask your physician or local pharmacist when picking out a multivitamin:
- Does it have efficient, absorbable ingredients in it?
- Does it have calcium citrate?
- Is the brand using vitamin D3 instead of vitamin D, since vitamin D3 is more absorbable?
- Does it include methylated B vitamins instead of regular B vitamins?
- Is there iron in it?
- Does it have vitamin K2 instead of vitamin K1?
A high-quality multivitamin should also have at least 50mg of each mentioned mineral and vitamin. Anything less than 50mg is not enough to have an effect. A high-quality vitamin should also be void of any artificial colorings, as well as sugars, dyes, preservatives, heavy metals, and fillers.
Consult Your Health Care Practitioner
It’s best to consult your healthcare practitioner regarding multivitamins if you’re thinking about taking them. Most doctors take multivitamins themselves. Only after completing a thorough history of people’s health issues, diet, lifestyle, and prescription drug use can a doctor determine which vitamins would be beneficial in their specific situation.