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Considering the fact that your body needs approximately 40 vitamins and minerals each day to function optimally, it isn’t always possible to get everything you need from food alone. This is especially true if you have food allergies or dietary preferences that limit the variety of foods you eat. To find the perfect multivitamin for you, look for these six characteristics.
Make sure your multivitamin…
1) Conforms to any of your dietary restrictions or allergies
Many multivitamins contain gelatin and may have cross-contamination with common allergens like wheat and nuts. Since gelatin is generally made of animal skin, cartilage, and bones, it is not vegetarian and usually not kosher or halal. Make sure to take a peek at any allergens listed on the label or look for “allergen-free” claims.
2) Contains less than 100% of your DV of most included vitamins/minerals
Unless you have personalized recommendations from a medical professional, avoid multivitamins with more than 100% of your daily value (DV) of most vitamins/minerals. The DV number you see (as a percentage) on food and supplement labels is based on the 2,000 calorie diet of an average healthy adult. Yes, you can overdose on vitamins and minerals. Here’s a thorough list of vitamins and minerals and their benefits, known upper limits, and good food sources from Harvard Health.
Pay special attention to retinol/vitamin A and iron.
- Retinol/vitamin A: Look for less than 3,000-3,500 International Units (IUs) as too much can harm your bones.
- Iron: If you are a male or a postmenopausal female, pick a multi with 50% or less of the DV for iron (DV = 18 mg). Menstruating or pregnant women need more iron, and therefore don’t have the same multivitamin restrictions.
You can be a bit more lenient with
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- B vitamins
3) Fills gaps in your nutrition
Ideally, anything you supplement should just be filling whatever holes you daily diet has left. According to the CDC, the most common nutrient deficiencies in the U.S. are vitamin B6, iron, and vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin A, vitamin E, and folate deficiencies are rare.
The more restricted your diet, the more likely you are to be deficient in particular nutrients though. For example, research shows most adult vegetarians and vegans (80-90% in some studies) are vitamin B12-deficient. Pregnant or elderly individuals who eat a primarily plant-based diet appear to be the most at risk. This increased risk occurs because most B12-rich foods are sourced from animals: shellfish, organ meat, meat, eggs, milk and milk products.
In women and older adults in the U.S., calcium is another nutrient that is under-eaten.
Apart from looking into the research behind nutrient deficiencies within your demographic, you can also track what you eat to gain insight into which vitamins and minerals you might be missing. If you want to get really precise with it and can afford to do so, getting thorough blood work done can tell you a lot about your nutrition.
4) Is high quality and effective
Because dietary supplements are essentially unregulated by the FDA, it’s up to you to discern which multivitamins are safe and effective. Look for reports from third-party testers, including official badges and certifications…not all multis are created equal! When it comes to supplements, higher prices are usually indicative of higher quality products. While it may seem like a lot to spend initially, it’s worth having a product with ingredients that are properly concentrated and screened for contaminants.
If you shop the Fitness Formulary marketplace, we’ve already curated the multivitamins we carry to avoid cheap and ineffective brands. You can also use Fitness Formulary as a tool to find a multivitamin that has the highest chance of effectively supporting your health. We use a scientifically-driven grading system that combines the experiences of experts and the results from clinical studies to grade (A, B, C, D, or F) ingredients based on their effectiveness. To use this feature, you can fill out a MyNutrition profile or shop by health condition or goal.
5) Is from a trustworthy source
If you’re going to be putting something extra into your body every day, you definitely want to trust that contains what it says it does. Picking trustworthy supplements is trickier than picking trustworthy foods because you can’t easily know what’s in a capsule.
To ensure that your multi contains what you think it does, it’s a good idea to get it from a marketplace without independent sellers (any site with seller usernames). These types of sites do not guarantee or check for supplement quality or effectiveness. Buying from sellers with multiple brands is also a safer bet, as many fake and harmful supplements exist on their own websites to promote themselves.
If you haven’t already checked out our downloadable PDF on five things to know before you shop vitamins and supplements, here it is!
6) Avoids unnecessary additives like artificial colors and flavors
If you generally avoid eating foods with artificial colors, added sugar, or artificial flavors, your daily multivitamin should be no exception. These components do nothing for you nutritionally, so why have them in your supplements?