The basic underlying premise of taking a multivitamin supplement makes perfect logical sense: mainly, the idea of taking a tablet that contains all the vital nutrients you need in one easy-to-swallow dosage.
They’re your insurance policy against nutritional deficiencies — as a supplement to your (hopefully) healthy diet.
Thus, what makes it so difficult to choose the right one?
Well, the reason is that not all multivitamins are created equal — some offer good value for money, some are bad, and some are strictly better than others. Still in doubt as to what to look for in a multivitamin supplement? Check out our guide on how to choose the right one for your unique health situation.
Simply put, multivitamins are dietary supplements containing a selection of vitamins and minerals. They may come in various combinations and in as many formats than you can shake a stick at. Nowadays, multivitamins can come in the form of chewables for children, gummy multivitamins, and effervescent multivitamins to mix with your water to create a nice, fizzy vitamin drink. And of course, we can’t forget multivitamin tablets and capsules we’ve all come to know and love.
Should you take multivitamins?
The body needs around 30 vitamins and minerals that are essential to your health. But does that mean you should buy one and take it right away? Not necessarily.
See, it’s recommended to get all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet. But a multivitamin supplement is a foolproof way to fill out any gaps in your nutrition when your diet isn’t providing enough vitamins and minerals — as is usually the case for most of us who live busy lives.
Moreover, nutritional deficiency is more likely in individuals who are at risk. For instance, if a person is a vegan, then taking a multivitamin supplement may help to cover up any nutritional gaps. Also, there are situations where you may want to bolster your body’s nutrition in preparation for a competition, for instance.
Choosing the right multivitamin: a guide
Nutritional content varies from brand to brand, and from product to product. Therefore, your purchasing decision depends on the following factors:
- Age. Most individuals may need to supplement or decrease a nutrient depending on their age. For instance, men in their 50s may be interested in taking multivitamins that help keep bone health or sexual health strong.
- Diet. Go over the labels of the foods you eat. Do you have a particularly unbalanced and unhealthy diet? Or a diet that needs supplementation (such as vegetarian/vegan diets)? If you are the latter, take multivitamins that supplement the nutrients that aren’t typically found in vegetarian diets. Vitamin B12 is a perfect example.
- Immunity. If you wish to strengthen your immune system, you may want to take a multivitamin with adequate amounts of zinc.
- Health/fitness goals. Do you feel lethargic and feel like you could use a little energy boost? Then take a multivitamin with the necessary nutrients you need to achieve it. The same is true if you wish to supplement to get better sleep — a supplement with vitamin B6 might just be what the doctor ordered.
Consult your doctor if you have any concerns about taking multivitamins —and keep the following things in mind when choosing a supplement.
5 Things to Keep in Mind When Buying a Multivitamin Supplement
1. Refrain from using multivitamins that combine iron and calcium
There are just some nutrients that don’t mix well such as iron and calcium. Calcium interacts with iron by inhibiting iron absorption, which isn’t particularly good if you’re taking iron for a particular reason (e.g. anemia or iron deficiency). Pick a multivitamin that contains either, and top it off with another supplement containing the other mineral – at a separate time.
2. Check if they are using “activated” nutrients
The best multivitamin supplements contain active ingredients. Whenever you consume an activated form of a nutrient, it means that your body doesn’t need to consume resources processing it. Rather, activated nutrients are instantly introduced, and provide better absorption than inactive forms. For instance, vitamin B6 may be taken as pyridoxine (the inactive form) and pyridoxine 5-phosphate (the activated form).
3. Refrain from using products with synthetic folic acid
Certain individuals have genes that prevent their bodies from breaking down and processing folic acid into its active form (5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or 5-MTHF). The best practice is to choose a product containing natural folate, which can be found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes — rather than its artificial form as folic acid. Check your multivitamin for “folate”, “folacin”, or “5-MTHF”, which are all forms of natural folic acid.
4. Pick a supplement with a vitamin E complex
As always, read the label on the multivitamin you wish to take and double-check whether vitamin E with mixed tocopherols. Why? That’s because vitamin E with mixed tocopherols contains alpha, beta delta, and gamma tocopherols — for a full spectrum effect. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of tocopherols for health, hence this is why it’s helpful to check.
5. Be on the lookout for fillers, additives, and adulterants
No one wants synthetic additives and adulterants that you can’t pronounce or you’ve never heard of. Some supplement manufacturers add these ingredients to prolong their product’s longevity by making it appear more visually aesthetic than the product itself really is — or worse, to cut corners in manufacturing costs. It’s always better to purchase verified, clean, pure, and natural products.
Multivitamins are not a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise
Ideally, you should be getting your vitamins and minerals from the food you eat — because that’s the way the body was designed. As long as you eat a balanced diet, you’ll get all the nutrients you need. Supplements are exactly what they are — supplements — meaning complementary additions to the food you eat. You can’t live off a handful of morning multivitamins alone.