Choosing an organic multivitamin free from pesticides makes sense when your goal is improved health. The best organic vitamins for you depends on your individual nutrient needs. Look for supplements that have been third-party tested to ensure you're getting the highest quality for your money.
Why Choose Organic?
From bananas to bed linens, people are opting to buy more organic products, and for good reason. Better for your health and the environment, organic products may cost more, but the benefits outweigh the extra expenditure. Organic multivitamins are derived from organically grown, whole foods, which means they may offer the same benefits as organic foods.
Organic foods are grown without pesticides, substances used in farming to kill or repel plants or animals considered pests. When ingested, these pesticides may be harmful to health, and some evidence links them to harmful neurodevelopmental effects in children, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
A review of research published in Environmental Health in October 2017 reports that conventionally grown foods are the primary source of exposure to pesticide residues in the general population.
Organic foods are not genetically modified. Genetic engineering involves manipulating genes to create more desirable agricultural outcomes. Although this sounds good, it does not come without potential risks to human health, farmers, the environment, domesticated animals and wild animal populations, according to the Center for Food Safety.
Some of the human health risks that are still being investigated include the potential for genetically modified foods to be toxic, trigger allergic reactions, cause antibiotics resistance, suppress the immune system, cause cancer and offer lower nutritional value.
Organic farming practices are more forward-thinking, taking into consideration the health of the soil and the environment for future generations. Healthy soil means more long-term food cultivation prospects, and it also means less environmental damage, which has more far-reaching effects than just a season's harvest.
What to Look For
This is the tricky part. How do you know which is the best organic whole food multivitamin? There isn't really a set of standards to go by when scanning the supplement shelves at your local health food store. The first thing to look for is the organic seal. Products may come up with clever ways to make consumers think a supplement is organic, when it may just contain a few organic ingredients.
Organic certification by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guarantees that a food or supplement is comprised of at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Some products may be labeled "100 percent organic," which means they do not contain any inorganic ingredients. Any certified organic multivitamin will display the "USDA Organic" seal somewhere on the packaging.
Whether organic or not, there are a few other important considerations when choosing a multivitamin. According to UT Southwestern Medical Center, you can use these guidelines to help you decide which organic multivitamin is best for you:
Check the daily values. The daily value, or DV, is an estimate of how much of a particular nutrient the average adult needs. The supplement label will tell you what percentage of the daily value is provided for each nutrient. Look for an organic, whole food multivitamin with as close to 100 percent of the DV as possible.
Many multivitamins contain much more than the DV. In this case, make sure you're not going to get too much of a particular nutrient. For example, if you're a man, it's important to check the amount of iron in the supplement you choose, as too much iron can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in men, according to a study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine in August 2013. Be especially careful if you eat a lot of iron-rich foods in your diet, such as red meat.
Look for the nutrients you need most. Your vitamin and mineral needs may change throughout adulthood, depending on your gender and according to certain lifestyle factors. For example, older women need more calcium to prevent osteoporosis. Premenopausal and pregnant women need more of the B vitamin folate, or folic acid, to prevent birth defects in their babies. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you need more B12 because it primarily comes from animal foods.
Check for third-party certification. The FDA doesn't regulate supplements like it does food. Therefore, manufacturers can make false claims about quality and ingredients, and you may not be getting what's listed on the label. Third-party testing ensures a product's quality and the accuracy of its claims. Look for seals from organizations such as the the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) or NSF International.
It's also important to verify any ingredients, in addition to vitamins and minerals. Many organic whole food multivitamins contain herbal ingredients you've never heard of. For example, one brand provides a "stress and energy support blend" including maca root and a "prostate support blend" including saw palmetto.
According to MedlinePlus, there is insufficient evidence to support maca's effectiveness for increasing energy. NIH reports that even rigorous, well-conducted studies have shown that saw palmetto is not more effective than a placebo for reducing urinary tract symptoms caused by an enlarged prostate.
Don't Forget Your Diet
It's easy to be lulled by a false sense of nutritional security when you look at the label of your chosen organic multivitamin. It looks like a whole meal in a pill, with way more nutrition than you could possibly get from whole foods. Nutrients in amounts many times the DV may seem like a panacea for health, but in reality, they're often useless or even harmful.
While whole foods may contain more conservative amounts of vitamins and minerals, they come packaged with other nutrients that are crucial for good health, including protein, fiber and healthy fats. A supplement can never replace a healthy diet.
Then, there's the economic impact. Organic multivitamins can be exorbitant, costing as much for a 30-day supply as a week's worth of fresh, organic vegetables from your local farmer's market. Unless your doctor has recommended taking a multivitamin, you're better off spending your hard-earned cash on some real food that helps fill you up and tastes good too.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: "Pesticides"
- Environmental Health: "Human Health Implications of Organic Food and Organic Agriculture: A Comprehensive Review"
- Center for Food Safety: "GE Food & Your Health"
- USDA: "Organic Labeling Standards"
- UT Southwestern Medical Center: "5 Signs You’ve Chosen the Right Multivitamin"
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine: "Relation Between Body Iron Status and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Patients With Cardiovascular Disease"
- National Institutes of Health: "Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age"
- Office on Women's Health: "Folic Acid"
- National Institutes of Health: "B12"
- NSF: "What Is NSF Certification?"
- MedlinePlus: "Maca"
- National Institutes of Health: "Saw Palmetto"