The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified calcium, vitamin D, dietary fiber, and potassium as nutrients of concern for inadequate intake in adults and children. All of these nutrients, except fiber, come packaged in a multivitamin. Fiber can be obtained as a separate supplement, but it’s still best to try to get all your fiber from the foods you eat.
Although some evidence questions the benefit of a daily multivitamin and its ability to stave off disease, many people add them to their diet to maintain or boost health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than half of U.S. adults take dietary supplements. Multivitamins are the most commonly used supplement, with 40% of men and women reporting they take a daily multivitamin.
The Harvard School of Public Health suggests a once daily multivitamin with extra vitamin D for most people as a nutritional back-up. The Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center at Oregon State University suggests taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement with 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for most vitamins and essential minerals to maintain health.
What to Look for in a Multivitamin
- Read the label carefully. Product labels identify which nutrients are included and the amounts contained within each serving.
- Get the basic vitamins and minerals. Most multivitamin preparations usually include the following vitamins and minerals: vitamin C, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, folic acid (B9), B12, B5 (pantothenic acid), biotin, A, E, D2 or D3 (cholecalciferol), K, potassium, iodine, selenium, borate, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, betacarotene, and iron.
- Check the percentages. In general, choose a supplement that provides 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for most of the vitamins and minerals in that supplement. Some nutrients, like calcium and magnesium, are rarely included at 100% because the pill would be too large to swallow.
- Look for the extras. Modern multivitamins are available in a wide variety of formulas that are aimed at helping people with specific nutritional needs or conditions. Some of the more popular ones come with or without iron, or as high-potency formulas that contain at least two-thirds of the nutrients called for by recommended dietary allowances. Other multivitamins can contain additional select nutrients like antioxidants, or formulations that are specialized to specific conditions, like prenatal vitamins.
- Formulas for men, women, and age groups. Choose a multivitamin designed for your age and sex so that the nutrients included will be right for you.
- Don’t overdo it. Avoid multivitamins that exceed 100% of daily recommended values, because supplements are in addition to the nutrients in food, and some, in large doses, can build up and become toxic.