A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and nuts proves the optimal way to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals. A vitamin supplement is not associated with decreased risk of disease but can augment a diet that is short on vegetables and fruits. Not all multivitamins are created equal, though. They have varying amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, leave some out altogether and sometimes don't contain the levels listed on the label. Look for certain qualities to find the top ones for you.
Why You Might Need a Multivitamin
If you already eat a pretty balanced diet, full of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, a multivitamin may not be necessary. Heavy exercisers, people exposed to high-stress situations, poor eaters, those skimping on sleep, pregnant and breast-feeding women and individuals with compromised immune systems may benefit from a multivitamin. Always consult with your doctor before adding supplements; you can get too much of a good thing. A study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2012 noted that too much of certain vitamin supplements can increase the risk of cancer.
Look for a multivitamin that contains 100 percent of vitamins A, B-6, B-12, C, D and E. You also want it to contain 100 percent of the vitamins known by their names: thiamin (B-1), riboflvain (B-2), chromium, folic acid and niacin. A quality multivitamin contains 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of minerals copper and zinc. Women who are premenopausal should aim for 18 milligrams of iron per multivitamin and men and post-menopausal women, 10 milligrams.
Choosing a Brand
An independent test of 21 multivitamins conducted by Consumer Reports in 2010 found that most products did contain the amount of nutrients listed on the labels, were free of contaminants and passed the U.S. Pharmacopeia's dissolution test, which involves determining whether the vitamin dissolves properly in stomach acid to release the nutrients.
Major store brands are usually a safe bet as they do not want to sacrifice their reputation by putting out a substandard product. Avoid multivitamins that make unsubstantiated claims, however, such as promising weight loss or improved energy.
According to Consumer Reports, the top five multivitamins based on nutrients and price are: Kirkland Signature Daily Multivitamin; Equate Complete Multivitamin; Healthsense Advanced Formula Complete; Up and Up Advanced Formula; and Central Vite with Antioxidants.
Multivitamins do expire, so check the expiration date prior to purchase. That date should be several months away so you have time to safely consume the pills.
Pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant need a multivitamin with a substantial amount of folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects. Premenopausal women should aim for 400 micrograms of folic acid in each multivitamin, and pregnant women need 600 micrograms. Talk to your doctor about brands that are best for you.
Active people may need more than the standard 400 international units of vitamin D found in many multivitamins. Up to 600 international units can help you maintain strong bones and enhanced immunity. While vitamin D has not been shown to improve performance as a supplement, athletes need optimal levels to deter injury and maximize their abilities, noted a review published in a 2013 issue of Nutrients.