How To Choose A Quality Multivitamin With So Many Options Out There
If you've ever cruised down the vitamin aisle at your local pharmacy or health store, you've probably been straight-up overwhelmed by the number of different multivitamin options fighting for your attention. It's no surprise the market is booming, either; of the nearly 75% of the U.S. population1 that takes supplements, about one-third2 take a multi.
So, if decision fatigue, plus the influx of Instagram ads for the latest trendy multivitamin, have left you wondering what the heck to look for in a quality multi, we get it. Here's what you need to know about what a truly comprehensive multivitamin looks like so you can pick the right one for you without any unnecessary stress.
What are multivitamins?
Simply put, multivitamins are supplements that are designed to help you meet your daily recommended intake of the variety of micronutrients (think vitamins and minerals) that your body needs in order to function at its best. Since research3 shows that most of us just can't make this happen through food alone, a multivitamin is often a helpful (and necessary) tool for filling in the gaps.*
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, if you take a look at all of the options out there, you'll find formulas marketed toward different groups of people (like men or women over age 50), a wide array of "complete" formulas with 10 to 30-plus ingredients, high-potency supplements that contain higher amounts of nutrients, and multivitamins that go above and beyond the typical vitamin and mineral offering and include phytonutrients and other bioactives, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, glutathione, omega-3s, or CoQ10.
Do you really need a multivitamin?
Want the short answer here? Yes, you probably do need a multivitamin. Why? Well, if you rely on food alone, nationally representative data3 suggests that you're probably not getting ample amounts of key vitamins and minerals. (A few big ones: vitamins A4, D5, E6, and K7; calcium8; magnesium9; and potassium10—though they're not the only ones.)
"Multivitamins are multitaskers when it comes to our health," says Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg's director of scientific affairs. "They support the essential daily vitamin and mineral needs for women and men, young and old, enabling us to mind the gaps in our diet that national stats clearly and repeatedly demonstrate."*
Whether you just need a daily boost or true nutrient repletion, a complete multivitamin goes a long way in helping you reach micronutrient sufficiency, she says.*
The impacts of this in the body are widespread: "Because the array of vitamins and minerals all play critical roles in cells, tissues, and organs, a quality multivitamin supports a variety of structures and functions in our body, like our bones, immune system, eyes, [and] cellular energy,"* explains Ferira.
Multivitamin red flags to look out for.
Multis come in a wide variety of formulations and forms (think capsules versus liquids versus gummies), and not all are created equal, points out health coach and dietitian Jessica Cording, R.D., CDN, author of The Little Book of Game-Changers.
Unless you have issues swallowing pills, Cording recommends steering clear of gummy multivitamins. "They often contain added sugar and can contribute extra carbohydrates and calories to your diet," she says. Typically, gummy multis also fall short on a bunch of nutrients (particularly minerals, which can be bulky), so they ultimately don't provide as complete a spectrum of vitamins and minerals as multivitamins that are packaged up in other forms, adds Ferira.
Gummies aside, many multi formulas may also contain unhelpfully small amounts of important nutrients—or leave certain nutrients out completely. "It's definitely possible to have too much of a good thing or not enough of what you're after," Cording says. That's why she recommends reading the label on potential multivitamins to check how much of your recommended daily value of certain nutrients they provide. (Again, minerals often get the boot here! Which isn't ideal considering many Americans don't get enough of them as is, and this can be especially true for certain dietary patterns...think vegetarians, vegans, and iron needs.)
Otherwise, "I would pay attention to the overall formula features: Is it vegan, GMO-free, gluten-free?" suggests Ferira. "Then, check the 'other ingredients' list. How long is it? Shorter is better because that means fewer additives."
What to look for in a quality multivitamin.
Everyone's needs (and nutritional shortcomings) are slightly different, but, generally, Ferira recommends looking for a multivitamin that includes vitamins A, C, D3, E, K1 and K2, and the eight B vitamins (which are thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, folate, and B12).
She also likes to see a multivitamin that contains a full array of essential minerals, meaning calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron, as well as often-overlooked minerals like iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, molybdenum, and chromium. (Trace minerals like boron and silica are great bonuses.)
Though people don't often think much about the forms of the different vitamins and minerals in their multi, Ferira recommends looking for gentle, bioavailable, bioactive forms, such as chelated minerals and methylated B vitamins, as these can help ensure your body makes the most of your daily routine.*
Do different groups of people need different multivitamins?
"Certain multivitamin formulas align with dietary patterns and cultural food beliefs and practices, and I think it's important for these offerings to exist," Ferira says. One example: vegan multivitamins. These formulas exclude ingredients of animal origin (so no lanolin-derived D3, for example) and typically leverage botanicals.
People in different life stages and experiences may also need different multivitamins. "A specialized multivitamin for prenatal support in women trying to get pregnant or who are pregnant, for example, should feature higher levels of key nutrients, particularly iron, calcium, vitamin D3, iodine, and certain B vitamins—like folic acid—on top of the baseline full array of vitamins and minerals in a regular multi,'* she explains.
Children and teens also have "unique daily vitamin and mineral needs, as well as daily tolerable upper intake levels that shouldn't be exceeded unless expressly recommended and approved by their health care provider," Ferira adds.
For all of these reasons, different people may need different multivitamin products.
However, Ferira generally believes that adult multivitamins have become overcomplicated and overly fractionated. "Brands who wanted to diversify their portfolios to make more money started offering multis for women versus men, active versus not active, the list goes on," Ferira says. "In reality, these formulas have negligible or no differences and, in some cases, do silly things like cut the iron out completely for men and older adults—who still have daily iron needs, mind you—or include less calcium in a men's formula, even though men have the same exactly daily calcium needs as women."
That's why Ferira says she's a fan of a "genderless, ageless multivitamin/mineral supplement that's truly comprehensive, high-potency, premium, clean, and supports all adults and their daily nutrient and whole-body health." Bottom line: Don't get too caught up in the marketing.
With so many multivitamin options out there to choose from, picking one can feel overwhelming. When hunting for your perfect multivitamin, check the label to make sure it contains helpful amounts of all of the vitamins and minerals you need, look for the addition of other helpful bioactive or botanical ingredients, and make sure it's free of any allergens or additives you want to avoid.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, relationships, and lifestyle trends with a master’s degree from American University. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health, Prevention, Self, Glamour, and more. She lives by the beach, and hopes to own a taco truck one day.