Your Multivitamin Might Not Actually Be High-Potency & Here's Why It Matters
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Science shows that regularly taking a multivitamin helps close nutrient gaps1 left by our diet, which (sad but true) are many.* A huge number of Americans don't meet all of their nutrient needs through the food on their plate alone, reminding us that the whole concept of "food first" shouldn't be confused with "food only"; if the research tells us anything, it's that such an approach just plain doesn't cut it.
That doesn't necessarily mean that any old multivitamin will guarantee you gold-star nutrition status, though. While choosing to take a daily multi to support your overall health and help fill in those nutritional gaps is a move you should feel good about, not all multivitamins are created equal—and the punch your multi packs ultimately determines just how much good it does you.*
What "high-potency" means—and why it matters for your multi.
Of the common mistakes that many multivitamin formulas make, a pretty major one is subpar potency. "Some multivitamins fail you because they include sub-efficacious (ahem, weaksauce) doses of nutrients," explains Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg's director of scientific affairs. "I call this unsavory practice 'sprinkling' or 'fairy dusting.'"
Plain and simple, "potency" refers to how much of an ingredient a supplement contains. As Ferira explains, "think of 'potency' as a dose that carefully considers the ingredient's daily requirements if known, or science-backed levels."
In fact, the FDA regulates the term "high-potency,"2 specifically, stating that products can only call themselves high-potency if they include 100% of the RDI (Reference Daily Intakes), also known as the Daily Value (%DV), for vitamins and/or minerals in them (or more) per serving. In a multivitamin, for example, which contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, at least two-thirds of them have to have a dose of at least 100% of the RDI in order for that multi to label itself as high-potency.
A quick example: If your multivitamin contains 20 ingredients, it has to provide 100% of the RDI of at least 14 of those nutrients in order to tout itself as high-potency. (Unless it wants to land in a lot of hot water, that is.) Ferira concludes, "A singular nutrient or multivitamin/mineral supplement formula that boasts a 'high-potency' claim is not marketing. Instead, this special designation refers to intentionally concentrated and effective levels of nutrition."
A good reason to make sure your multivitamin is truly high-potency? Research shows that more than 30% of adults fall short on eight key nutrients3 when relying on food alone. About one in three people, meanwhile, is at risk of at least one true nutrient deficiency. Basically, we're falling really, really short on essential micronutrients, which suggests that a multivitamin with lame doses of nutrients is truly, as Ferira puts it, "weaksauce," at helping us truly fill the gaps we face.*
The sad reason many multi formulas cut corners on the potency of their ingredients (nutrients and botanical phytonutrients, alike), according to Ferira: to save money or space or both. (Certain nutrients, and particularly premium sources and forms of them, can be expensive and bulky!)
The takeaway for your routine.
If you're going to invest in a daily multivitamin supplement (and put in the effort to make taking it a daily habit that sticks), that multi should work hard for you—and that means that it should contain potent doses of essential vitamins and minerals.
When selecting a high-quality, high-potency multivitamin to add to your routine, read through the Supplement Facts panel listed out on the back and look for at least 100% in the column that says "%DV" for the majority of the vitamins and minerals it contains.
Ferira points out that for certain minerals (e.g., calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron), you typically won't find 100% of the Daily Value, mostly because these are large minerals that take up lots of space. "This is why these essential macro- and microminerals are included in stand-alone products or complexes with fewer ingredients. Otherwise, your multivitamin would be six or more capsules, and that's just silly," she says.
Narrow down your search with our list of the best multivitamins out there—or eliminate all of the guesswork with mbg's ultimate multivitamin+. "Other multivitamins are known to 'sprinkle' certain ingredients, especially the costly ones. We don’t sprinkle," says Ferira. "We care about potency, including science-backed and helpful doses of each nutrient." (You'll find more than 100% of the DV of 20 vitamins and minerals packed in there, plus botanical bioactives too, in just two capsules per day.)*
Ultimately, if you're not sure whether your multivitamin is providing enough of the slew of micronutrients your body needs daily, check in with a trusted nutritionist or health care provider. They can paint a picture of the nutritional quality of your diet, take stock of your current supplement routine, and help you make any tweaks necessary to not only close up nutritional gaps but to nourish your body as proactively as possible.*
Lauren Del Turco, CPT is a freelance health and wellness writer, editor, and content strategist who covers everything from nutrition to mental health to spirituality. Del Turco is also an ACE-certified personal trainer. She graduated from The College of New Jersey with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing. When she’s not on deadline, you’ll find Del Turco hiking with her dogs, experimenting with new plant-based recipes, or curled up with a book and tea.