There is little evidence that taking a multivitamin everyday will improve your health, nonetheless it remains a billion-dollar industry. Medical experts and healthcare professionals recommend multivitamins as an kind of "insurance policy" for getting nutrients that may be missing in your diet. It can't hurt -- unless you are taking the worst kind. Always talk to your doctor before you begin taking any vitamins or supplements.
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What to Look For
In 2010, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee published a list of seven nutrients in which most American diets are deficient: fiber, potassium, vitamins D and B12, folic acid, iron and calcium. Most multivitamins do not have large amounts of fiber and potassium, but the other nutrients should be in every serving of the multivitamin you choose. You also should choose a multivitamin that has the seal of approval from one of these nonprofit groups: United States Pharmacopoeia, NSF International or ConsumerLab. These groups ensure that products are free of dangerous contaminants and that the plants that produce them are clean and safe.
What You Need
Consider what might be missing from your diet and lifestyle. For example, if you are a male over the age of 45, you might want to take a multivitamin with fish oil, which has heart-protecting qualities. You might want extra calcium if you are a woman worried about osteoporosis, or you might want lutein to support eye health. However, it is important that the vitamin you choose have enough of the nutrients you seek to make a difference. Decide what kinds of nutrients you need, then check the label to see whether the multivitamin provides a substantial amount of your recommended daily amount.
What to Avoid
Don't fall for marketing gimmicks. Many multivitamin manufacturers mark up the price or include unnecessary ingredients claiming that they are "whole-food" or "energy" vitamins. The only place to get whole-food vitamins is from whole foods. There is no evidence that vitamins sourced from whole foods and then bottled are any better absorbed than other vitamins. Multivitamins that claim to deliver more energy often include caffeine, which could be dangerous for some individuals and could inhibit the absorption of other vital nutrients. Some "energy" multivitamins may include an increased number of B vitamins, subscribing to the industry-driven myth that more B vitamins equals more energy. Megadoses of multivitamins or any vitamin in particular may harm your health in various ways, including raising your risk of certain cancers, according to a report from CNN.com.
The Best and the Worst
ConsumerLab.com recommends sticking with longstanding, mainstream names when choosing your multivitamin. ConsumerLab.com analyzed 35 vitamins and found issues with approximately one-third of the brands tested. Some of these misrepresented their content on the label, according to ComsumerLab. Choose solid forms of vitamins over liquid forms, because liquid vitamins tend to degrade as they sit on the shelf. Also, do not think expensive equals better: ConsumerLab.com found no connection between price and quality in vitamins and says you should pay no more than 10 cents per day for a quality multivitamin.