Contrary to popular belief, not all supplements are created equally. Popping a pill labeled “multi-vitamin” isn’t necessarily adequate if you want to enjoy full health and vigor. A lot more goes into choosing a suitably potent multivitamin.
But before diving in, it’s crucial to note that no supplement will be as effective as good nutrition. Consuming the proper amounts of vegetables, fruits, fats, and carbohydrates will give greater nutritional value than popping a pill.
“My dietitian opinion about multivitamins and supplements is first to always try to get your nutrients from food,” says Catherine Borkowski, resident dietician for A Sweat Life. “If someone is healthy and able (and willing) to eat a balanced, healthy diet, there isn’t a need for a multivitamin/mineral supplement. A person can get all they need from food.”
That being said, it’s not that easy to get all the nutrients your body needs, especially when people are ignorant about proper nutrition. Here are several things to look for in a quality vitamin.
1. The Right Stuff
Borkowski says a collection of the right vitamins and minerals is important for an effective daily multivitamin. Here’s her list of recommendations to look for on the label:
- Vitamins A, C, E, and D
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 ( niacin)
- Folic acid (B9)
- B5 (pantothenic acid)
These are the essentials for a healthy body. The amount you need of each varies due to a number of factors. Most importantly, choose a multivitamin that includes a high percentage of iron, a vitamin E complex, vitamin B complex, vitamin A, and methylated forms of these vitamins.
Many multivitamins say “men’s” or “women’s” on them, and that’s not a label you may ignore. Men and women have different body compositions, so they require different vitamins and amounts of them for health.
For example, menstruating women tend to need more iron because of the deficiency they develop during menstrual periods. Men, on the other hand, tend to need higher doses of vitamins C, E, A, and K.
Your body does a better job of naturally producing vitamins and nutrients at particular ages. As kids mature into adulthood, they’ll need more nutrients. As adults get older and develop more health problems, the recommended vitamin dosages change further.
When your body ages, some functions tend to shut down or perform at a lesser capacity. You’ll often need more potent vitamins to make up the difference, even if you’re eating three square meals a day. Consult with your doctor about the best vitamins for you as you age.
4. Pregnancy or Upcoming Pregnancies
There’s never a more important time to get the right vitamins than during a pregnancy or when you’re trying to conceive. In order to grow a healthy human in the uterus, women need a special multivitamin called a prenatal.
Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated with a higher level of folic acid and iron than more typical multivitamins. These nutrients are essential for the growth and development of your baby, and they’ll help prevent defects at birth.
Not all prenatal vitamins are equipped with the right stuff. For example, some prenatal vitamins don’t contain omega-3 fatty acids, which could help promote brain development in the fetus. Watch out for synthetic folic acid, too, which doesn’t absorb into your bloodstream as well as natural methods.
You might consider supplementing your prenatal with calcium and vitamin D to help absorb the other vitamins and get the baby ready for a strong delivery.
5. Additives and Fillers
You might assume a multivitamin contains only the essentials for optimum health, but many also have fillers, additives, synthetic colors, and fluff ingredients. Most of the time, these extras do nothing more than extend the shelf life of the product.
Though they probably won’t make a difference in your absorption, many people prefer clean, all-natural products that haven’t been overly processed. There are enough fillers and additives in the standard American diet already, that you don’t need any more with your daily multivitamin.
6. Daily Percentage Value (%DV)
When you look at the list of vitamins included in your multivitamin, study the numbers next to each. These represent the daily percentage value (%DV). If it’s 100 percent, that means you’ll get a full day’s worth of that vitamin in one dose.
Preferably, you should get 100 percent of your daily value in most categories, but be wary of vitamins that contain more than 100 percent. You’ll get a certain amount of nutrients from your foods, and too much of certain vitamins could make you sick.
7. Safety Seal
Look for the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) stamp on the label. This means the pill meets certain government safety standards and the label has been verified as accurate.
Like anything else you ingest, you want to make sure it’s clean and safe, and the USP serves to verify that.