Eating well is about much more than simply counting calories — you need to make sure you're getting plenty of vitamins and minerals. If you're someone who takes a daily multivitamin, you might think that's all you need, and the biggest dietary choice you have to make is Centrum vs. One A Day, right?
In some science-fiction version of the future, people might be able to take entire meals in pill form. But until those kinds of advances become reality, you should get all the nutrients you need from eating a wide variety of food. When you're still falling short, however, multivitamins can be a good option, and different brands offer products that claim to meet different needs.
Do Multivitamins Work?
Multivitamins are one of those things that almost sound too good to be true. After all, it's the struggle of eating a healthy diet suddenly made simple. It's enough to make anyone skeptical.
You're not alone in that thought process. Even though multivitamins serve important health purposes in some lifestyles, most experts, such as the Food and Drug Administration, emphasize that they aren't a replacement for eating well.
As the FDA points out, micronutrients — which comprise vitamins and minerals — are important for all kinds of body processes. Look up the facts about any nutrient and you'll see what an important role it plays in overall health. Iron, a mineral, is important for carrying oxygen through the blood to the cells. Vitamin C, a vitamin, is important for fighting oxidation and ensuring your immune system is efficient.
Most American diets have too many calories and too few vitamins and minerals. A few nutrients that are lacking the most in the average diet are calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin C.
While the average healthy person should get these nutrients through food, there are certain people who can benefit from supplementation. According to a review published in November 2013 in Advances in Nutrition, taking supplementary vitamins and minerals can be beneficial for people who are at risk of being deficient in certain nutrients. For example, a vegetarian or vegan might have difficulty getting enough iron, so an iron supplement might be appropriate.
The National Institutes of Health lists several populations that are either at risk for nutrition shortfalls or might need additional amounts of nutrients that they wouldn't be able to get in their diet. Postmenopausal women, for example, could benefit from extra calcium and vitamin D, which will increase their bone density and help them avoid fractures.
Considering the Best Vitamin Brands
If you and your doctor decide that the supplement route is the way to go, it's important that you find the right multivitamin for you based on your age, gender or special nutritional needs. For example, if you're trying to determine the best vitamins for men over 50, there would be a few factors you could consider.
Men are not as likely to be iron deficient as menstruating women. People over 50, both men and women, could benefit from extra vitamin B12 because they have a harder time absorbing this nutrient from food compared with young people. They would potentially want to look for a multivitamin that doesn't have iron but does have plenty of vitamin B12.
Sometimes the manufacturers take the guesswork out of it for you and make multivitamins specifically geared toward certain populations. Therefore, the best vitamins for men over 50 would be, well, those multivitamins specifically made for men over 50.
Before you take the manufacturer's word for granted, however, you should check with your doctor or health care provider to see which specific nutrients you need. Even if a manufacturer markets its product as having the best vitamins for men over 50, not every man will need the same vitamins and minerals. And as the FDA points out, it's important not to self-diagnose.
If you're looking for the best vitamin brands, consider two of the most popular ones on the market and what they have to offer: Centrum Silver and Bayer One A Day. These two vary slightly in what they have to offer, so the Centrum vs. One A Day debate comes down to what you need in a supplement.
According to the Centrum website, its Silver product for adults age 50 and older is intended to provide micronutrients needed by people as they age, and consumers should take one tablet every day with food. Centrum also makes products specifically geared toward adults under age 50, and toward men, toward women and for specific purposes like antioxidation or improving hair, skin and nails.
In the case of Bayer One A Day, you see something similar. The company's website claims to offer "uniquely formulated products … for different ages, genders, and health goals." Its product line differs from Centrum slightly. It has multivitamins marketed for women's needs, men's needs, pregnancy, kids and teens, adults over 50, heart health and energy support.
As far as Centrum vs. One A Day goes with regard to the best vitamin for men over 50, for example, both brands offer a specially formulated supplement for that demographic. These multivitamins are marketed as offering benefits for heart health and muscle function, but Centrum Silver for Men 50+ advertises having vitamins for brain health and eye health whereas One A Day advertises nutrients for physical energy and healthy blood pressure.
Centrum Silver was used in a study published in November 2013 in JAMA that looked at more than 14,000 men age 50 or older over the course of 11 years as they took either a Centrum Silver multivitamin or a placebo. The men taking Centrum Silver had what was described as a modest but statistically significant lower instance of cancer compared with the men who took the placebo.
Drawbacks of Multivitamins
Other sources like Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Center for Science in the Public Interest emphasize that there aren't long-lasting benefits to taking multivitamins because they don't reduce risk for heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline or early death, and they can't help you fight off colds or infection.
It's also important to note that sometimes supplements can be detrimental. If you already have an adequate intake of certain nutrients, then taking a supplement presents a risk that you will exceed the upper limit and take in a toxic amount.
Multivitamins and other supplements are great for people who have special nutritional needs, but for the most part, the best vitamin brands are good old-fashioned foods that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Talk to your doctor about any nutrients you may be lacking and the best way to make up for what's missing in your diet.
- Centrum: “Centrum Silver Adults”
- One A Day: “Why Choose One A Day”
- JAMA: “Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cancer in Men”
- Food and Drug Administration: “Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins”
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins?”
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: “Should I Take a Multivitamin?”
- National Institutes of Health: “Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements”
- National Institute on Aging: “Vitamins and Minerals”
- Advances in Nutrition: “Recent Developments in Multivitamin/Mineral Research”
- National Institutes of Health: “Iron”
- National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin C”