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

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD
Published by Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD | Medical Doctor
Last updated: January 11, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
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Many patients are often surprised to learn during their consultations that obtaining all the essential vitamins and minerals solely from their diet can be challenging.

As a healthcare professional, I can affirm that multivitamins can be a safe and effective solution for addressing these nutrient deficiencies.

However, given the vast array of vitamin and mineral combinations available, it's crucial to understand what to look for in a multivitamin.

To provide more clarity on the essential ingredients to consider in multivitamins, I collaborated with a fellow dietitian, and here are the insights we gathered.

Quick Summary

  • When selecting a multivitamin, it's essential to look for a variety of key vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin D, C, A, B-12, magnesium, calcium, and zinc.
  • Avoid multivitamins with unnecessary additives like corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners, and opt for those verified by organizations like USP.
  • Sufficient intake of fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants like Vitamin D and C is crucial for daily health needs.
  • In my view, while multivitamins are beneficial for filling nutritional gaps, they should complement, not replace, a balanced and healthy diet.

What Should Multivitamins Contain?

capsules and pills

A top-notch multivitamin boosts your daily essential vitamin intake, bolstering your immune system, enhancing skin health, and ensuring you hit your nutrient targets.

According to the National Institute of Health, it's key to have enough fat-soluble vitamins, like Vitamin D, and antioxidants, like Vitamin C, for your daily needs [1].

A solid daily multivitamin should pack at least seven vitamins and a few minerals.

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

In my journey to find the best multivitamin, I've learned to look beyond the flashy labels. I focus on essential nutrients like Vitamin D and avoid products with unnecessary additives. It's about finding a balance that works for your body.

Scientific evidence from the National Library of Medicine shows that taking multivitamins can significantly improve cognitive functioning and health conditions, but be wary of snake oil salespeople [2].

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.

Be Careful If You Have Chronic Diseases

medical doctor working

If you're dealing with a chronic illness, consult your doctor before adding supplements. Some multivitamin ingredients might not mesh well with your treatment.

If you're pregnant, you should steer clear of supplements with retinol-form vitamin A; they could increase the risk of birth defects.

“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, & Sports Medicine Physician, Kettering Physician Network’s Primary Care

USP Verification

logo of USP

For extra safety, pick a brand with the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal.

Nutrient levels in multivitamins vary since they're less regulated by the FDA than prescription drugs. This includes manufacturing standards too.

A USP Verified Mark on the label means the product:

  • 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:

  • 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

Having tried various multivitamins, I've become wary of those with high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. I prefer ones sweetened with natural alternatives like Stevia, which don't compromise my health goals.

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:

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

Sweeteners that are fine:

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

How Multivitamins Interact With Other Medications

Multivitamins can interact with prescription medications, potentially affecting their absorption or efficacy.

For instance, calcium may interfere with the absorption of certain antibiotics, while vitamin K can interact with blood thinners.

It's crucial for individuals on long-term medications to inform their healthcare providers about all supplements, including multivitamins, to avoid adverse interactions.

Don't Rely Only On Multivitamins

Speaking from personal experience, while our bodies indeed thrive on nutrients from food, I've found that multivitamins are invaluable in complementing my diet.

They're not a substitute for healthy eating, but they've been a fantastic addition to ensure I'm not missing out on any essential nutrients.

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.

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.


References:

  1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-HealthProfessional/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22330823/
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About The Author

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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