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What To Look For In A Multivitamin? (From A Dietitian)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 26, 2022

What surprised me most when I first started working with a dietitian was how difficult it could be to get all the essential vitamins and minerals from your diet.

Multivitamins can be safe and effective in treating these nutrient deficiencies.

But with so many vitamins and mineral combos, how do we know exactly what to look for in a multivitamin?

To dive a little deeper into what essential ingredients to look out for in multivitamins, I joined forces with my dietitian, and here are our findings.

Quick Summary

  • A multivitamin should be an additional supplement for the immune system, not a replacement for high-quality food.
  • The essential vitamins and minerals to look for are vitamin D, C, A, B12, calcium, zinc, folic acid, and iron.
  • The added artificial ingredients such as food coloring, yeast, sugar, starch, salt, wheat, flavorings, or other preservatives are some of the red flags when choosing a supplement.

What Should Multivitamins Contain?

capsules and pills

A good multivitamin should top up your daily intake of all the most essential vitamins.

In addition, it should contain adequate doses of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin D and antioxidant vitamins like Vitamin C to provide you with the recommended daily allowance [1].

According to nutritionists, the ideal daily multivitamin should include, at the minimum, seven vitamins and some minerals [2].

Some of the key ingredients include:

Related Article: How To Choose Women's Multivitamin?

Taking a multivitamin simplifies getting your recommended dietary allowance of essential micronutrients. It also means that you don't have to track certain nutrients like amino acids or worry about getting these from natural sources.

Best Practices For Buying Multivitamins

stack of vitamins and a shopping cart

The vitamin and mineral supplements industry is huge.

Scientific evidence shows that taking multivitamins can significantly improve brain function and health conditions, but be wary of snake oil salespeople [3].

Avoid Long Lists Of Additives

Although certain ingredients may be necessary in some cases, it's best to steer clear of supplements that contain a lot of additives.

Avoid added ingredients such as food coloring, yeast, sugar, starch, salt, wheat, flavorings, or other preservatives since they can lower the nutritional value or counteract the effects of the vitamins in the supplements themselves [4].

Be Careful If You Have Chronic Diseases

medical doctor working

Additionally, if you have any chronic disease, reach out to your doctor to provide medical advice before adding additional supplements to your diet since some of the ingredients in multivitamins may not agree with the treatment of chronic disease and certain medical conditions [5].

For example, in the case of pregnancy, be careful with supplements containing vitamin A in retinol form since it may make it more likely that the baby will have congenital disabilities [6].

“Unfortunately, just like with prescription medications, the wrong combinations of vitamins can mean more harm than help: Some pre-existing health conditions don’t mix well with certain supplements, and some vitamins can counteract or react with prescription medications such as birth control, blood thinners, heart medication, and even antibiotics. Taking the wrong doses of vitamins, combining vitamins, or mixing supplements and alcohol could have negative effects on your health.” -Kali Hollingsworth, family, and sports medicine physician, Kettering Physician Network’s Primary Care

USP Verification

logo of USP

Another layer of safety could be choosing a brand that's verified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).

The nutrient component can vary brand by brand of these supplements since multivitamins are not as strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as prescription drugs. The lack of a standard is also present in how they are manufactured.

Seeing the USP Verified Mark on a dietary supplement label indicates that the product [7]:

  • Contains ingredients listed on the label
  • It does not contain harmful levels of any specified contaminants
  • It was made in line with the current FDA regulations using sanitary and well-controlled procedures

Other organizations that provide similar quality testing and verification [8]:

  • NSF International
  • ConsumerLab
  • Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG)
  • Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
  • International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS)

It’s always a good sign if the manufacturer is willing to undergo third-party testing to obtain certification from any of these organizations.

Sweeteners In Multivitamins: Are They Safe?

dripping syrup and monk fruits

To make multivitamins for children easier to consume, manufacturers typically make these products in a liquid, jelly, or powder form.

The ingredients are added to make them palatable, which often includes some form of a sweetener - some of these ingredients are fine, others may represent health concerns.

Sweeteners to avoid [9]:

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, aspartame, or acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K)

Sweeteners that are fine [10]:

  • Stevia or Rebaudioside A
  • Monk fruit extract
  • Sugar alcohols ( such as erythritol or sorbitol)
  • Fruit sources

Don't Rely Only On Multivitamins

Our bodies are designed to reap nutrients from the food we eat. Multivitamins should not substitute a healthy diet but rather be an excellent addition to it.

Look at a multivitamin as a helpful way to provide additional micronutrient support and fill in nutritional gaps - but not as a major dietary focus!

FAQs

What Symbols Should I Look For in Vitamins?

The two most important symbols to look for in vitamins are %DV and µg. Percent Daily Value (%DV) signifies the nutrition content of vitamins, and the symbol µg stands for "microgram [11].

Can Vitamins Damage Your Liver?

Studies show that most vitamins do not harm your liver. The two exceptions are vitamin A and niacin, both of which can cause distinctive forms of liver injury when taken in high doses [12].

Is Your Multivitamin Right For You?

If you have any vitamin deficiencies, multivitamins are a great choice.

Since the FDA does not regulate vitamins, paying close attention to all details is key when picking the right product for you.

When searching for the best multivitamins, a general guideline is to ensure that all ingredients are listed, legible, and ideally verified by a third-party organization.


References:

  1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-HealthProfessional/ 
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/best-vitamins-to-take-daily 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309636/ 
  4. https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2011/110928MauerCaking.html 
  5. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/mixing-medications-and-dietary-supplements-can-endanger-your-health 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470929/ 
  7. https://www.usp.org/verification-services/verified-mark?gclid=Cj0KCQiAuP-OBhDqARIsAD4XHpd_iJnvZ-nlqgAZuRsOAbOqAGrpp9Gs-b94mDWsaT9gsDjWMB8NqGcaAuu0EALw_wcB 
  8. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/cam/Internet%20Resources/useful_links.html 
  9. https://www.verywellfamily.com/best-childrens-vitamins-4586789 
  10. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2018-04-17/the-best-and-worst-sweeteners-for-your-gut 
  11. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-read-supplement-labels#supplement-facts
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548888/

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