Did you know that 9 out of 10 Americans’ diets don’t hit the bare-bones baseline recommendations for key vitamins and minerals, particularly potassium, vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium?
Multivitamins can’t make up for bad dietary choices, but they can help close the gap on nutrient deficiencies. Even Americans who aren’t technically deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral (for example, getting enough vitamin C to prevent scurvy) may not be getting optimal levels for vitality and well-being. But how do you choose the best multivitamin for you among the sea of bottles in the supplement aisle? Use this checklist to find the one that fits your needs.
Look for Natural Ingredients in Your Vitamins
Check out the fine print: Look for ingredients like d-alpha tocopherols (versus synthetic dl-alpha) for vitamin E and natural carotenoids under vitamin A, which will be better utilized by the body. Avoid synthetic flavors, colorings, and preservatives in the “Other Ingredients” list.
Price? Size? Organic? Food-Based?
Sometimes a lower-potency multivitamin easily outweighs a mega-dose tablet because the lower-potency multi offers high-quality forms of each ingredient.
Consider paying more for the multivitamin with higher-quality vitamins and minerals—such as co-enzyme B vitamins, methylcobalamin versus cyanocobalamin vitamin B12, and the selenomethionine form of selenium. Or consider food-sourced, fermented, and/or organic multivitamins (but expect lower doses of each vitamin). These forms are generally better utilized by the body and cause less digestive upset, but they’re not cheap. If this doesn’t suit your budget, stick to a basic once daily multivitamin. Glance at the pill size if possible (rattle opaque bottles) to make sure it’s something you can comfortably swallow, opting for smooth edges. Capsules break down more easily but don’t hold as much as tablets. Pop a pill in water with a splash of vinegar to get an idea of how well it breaks down.
Supplements & Serving Size?
Look at the tiny print under “Supplement Facts” to see how many pills you’re expected to take per day to get the doses listed for each vitamin and mineral. The more pills per day, the more optimal those levels should be—especially for bulky ingredients like calcium and magnesium. (You’re usually better off taking an additional cal-mag supplement regardless of the amount offered by your multi.) If you know you’re not likely to take more than one pill per day, stick with a “once daily” vitamin, which will give you more optimal levels of micronutrients like B vitamins, vitamins C and D, and microminerals in one pill.
High doses of B vitamins and zinc make some people queasy. Choose a two-(or more)-a-day multi so you can divide the dose, or choose a food-sourced brand. Always take your multi with food, ideally a solid breakfast.
Multivitamins & Special Needs
Multis geared toward men and older women usually don’t contain iron and often offer additional ingredients such as lycopene and targeted herb blends (in low doses).
Prenatals target healthy fetal growth with more folate and iron and less vitamin A. For the most nutrition support or for sensitive stomachs, choose a prenatal with several pills per day. If you know you’re apt to take only one, go for a once-daily formula.
Some multivitamins for elders are less likely to interact with meds, but always check with your healthcare practitioner. Seek vegan or vegetarian multivitamins if you want to avoid animal ingredients.
No one multi works for everyone, but in the sea of multivitamins, you’ll easily find one that’s perfect for you.
“2018 CRN consumer survey on dietary supplements," 10/18
“The dietary supplement consumer,” 2015, Council for Responsible Nutrition, www.crnusa.org