Multi-Vitamins: How to Choose

Mutli-Vitamins: How to choose

If picking out a multi-vitamin has you stressed-- read on


If picking a vitamin has you stressed and you still donít know if you need the stress formula or not read on.
By Jordana Brown

Multivitamins exist because almost no one, not even the most vigilant health nut (and certainly not the average American eater), gets the optimal levels of vitamins and minerals. Multis offer an easy way to round out your intake of these key dietary elements in one shot. But today, there are so many different types of multivitamins that even individuals who are quite nutrition-savvy often canít figure out what to take. Hereís how to sort the basic from the extra-beneficial.

The Basics

Weíre guessing that you already know this, but taking a daily multivitamin is no replacement for eating the most nutritious, balanced and healthful diet you can manage. As Roberta Anding, MS, RD, an instructor in the department of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, says, thereís not a multivitamin out there that can make up for a poor diet In fact, all of our experts repeatedly stressed the importance of focusing first on healthful eating, then supplementing with a multivitamin.

Still, even if you are eating well, you might not be getting a full host of vitamins and minerals. Janet Little, CN, lead nutritionist for Wild Oats Markets, cites a couple of issues as potential culprits: Some foods lose nutrients in processing, she explains. Others lose them because of the distance that the food has to travel some of the produce weíre getting comes all the way from Chile In addition, a review of existing research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2002 concluded that most people donít consume sufficient amounts of vitamins from food alone, so all adults should be taking a multivitamin.

How to choose? There are a few factors you should consider.


Even though vitamins (and other dietary supplements) are subject to the same United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations that food products are, you should still go for quality. buy from a company thatís got a good track record, I recommend Anding. if its a company youíve never heard of or have never seen advertised before, maybe hold back She also recommends looking for a United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) seal on the label, which means that the vitamin has been checked for things such as purity and dissolution (it will dissolve in your stomach) and that it has a safe manufacturing process. While not all companies participate in this review, they may participate in the Good Manufacturing Practices Certification Program (GMP) of the Natural Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), NSF International or other organizations. If you donít see one or more of those seals, you may need to check into the company more.

Bottom line: Stick with familiar brands.

The RDAs

This is possibly the trickiest of all the factors involved in choosing a multi. Hereís the root of the problem, as Anding puts it: even though we have recommended amounts for vitamins and minerals owe know how much vitamin C, for example, is going to prevent scurvy owe donít really have a good idea on optimal dose This means that while the minimum and maximum limits of most vitamins and minerals are defined, the amount you should be taking to maintain good health is extremely difficult to pinpoint, not least because each personís body is different.

Plus thereís a concern: The potential negative effects of getting too much of many vitamins and minerals can outweigh the potential negative effects of getting too little of some. This is why, as Maret Traber, PhD, professor of nutrition at the University of Oregon, says, weíve enriched many foods [such as flour and breakfast cereals] with many nutrients that were giving us problems so that we wouldnít have huge deficits Thatís a good thing until you start thinking about what you consume every day. Vitamin A, for example, can be hazardous in large amounts, a fact of which nutritional consultant Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, is all too aware. think about the people who are maxing out on their vitamins but not overdosing she says. they drink some kind of an energy drink during the day thatís supplemented with 100 percent of the RDA [of vitamin A], they eat an energy bar thatís also got vitamin A added, and then they eat A-fortified Total cereal. By the end of a day, theyíre taking an awful lot.

Ultimately, if you want to be sure your multivitamin is as tailored to your nutritional needs as possible, you have to examine your diet. Traber suggests using the US Department of Agricultureís new food pyramid website, itís really useful if youíve never actually figured out, aright, this is what I ate today did I come close to getting most of the nutrients I need? What did I miss? Armed with that information, you can better examine the makeup of the Multis on the shelves to find one that will best supplement your own personal diet. You will also want to be familiar with the differences between RDA, Daily Value, Dietary Reference Intakes, etc. To do this, see whatís the Difference on page 65.

Bottom line: Unless you are willing to get to know your body and your eating habits extremely well, pick a vitamin with no more than 100% of the DV of a large array of vitamins and minerals, and control intake of highly fortified foods to avoid any adverse health effects.

Special Formulas

Menís, womenís, senior does it matter? Yes, say our experts. One example: As people age, their bodies donít absorb nutrients as well; so senior formula Multis account for that. Another: obviously, your nutrient needs are greater when youíre pregnant, so you need extra, Anding says. Hence, prenatal vitamins.

And then, of course, thereís the most obvious distinction. We are at the very cusp of understanding some of the nutritional differences between men and women, I Kleiner say. Iron is the most scientifically grounded when it comes to these differences. One thing scientists know is that women really shouldnít be giving their supplements to men. The problem is we donít know who is going to be affected by iron overload Menstruating women need an iron supplement to maintain iron levels, but for men this isnít a problem that needs to be rectified.

Bottom line: Itís not marketing hype. Certain formulas, particularly those related to age and gender, are actually a good idea.


Spurred by the buzz surrounding such hot nutritional topics as antioxidants and power foods, supplement companies have added various herbs and phytochemicals to their pills. However, thereís only so much room in a multivitamin. hereís a good example: Lutein is really good for the eyes, I says Little. but you need 10Ů20mg to even be effective So check the label for how much of an herb is in a formula.

Bottom line: If you really think you need an extra herbal or phytochemicals boost, consider taking individual supplements in addition to your multi, but consult your physician or nutritionist first.

Childís Play

Having constantly developing bodies and oftentimes having picky palates make children good candidates for a multivitamin. However, their different needs and smaller size make choosing one arguably more difficult. Good thing the guidelines are straightforward. First of all, Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, recommends supplementing with only 100 percent of the Daily Value and making sure that youíre getting in all the major vitamins and minerals. Look for Multis that have iron, calcium, magnesium and B complex vitamins all of which are important to a childís growth and development.

Then comes the most important aspect: finding a pill your child will actually take. Says Janet Little, RD: you can buy the best childrenís multiple in the world, but if youíre fighting your kid every day to take it, then thatís probably not the best formula for him, I she says.

And finally, relax. ironist panic if your kid wonít take a supplement, I Kleiner concludes. Just offer a variety of nutritious foods.

Whatís the Difference?

You know those Nutrition Facts labels that appear on every can, jar and box of food in your cupboard? Well, they also appear on vitamin (and other supplement) bottles, and while they are supposed to make it easier to understand whether youíre getting all the good stuff you need, it is still difficult to sort out the jargon. Here, Roberta Anding, MS, RD, gives you a crash course in the alphabet soup surrounding

vitamins and minerals.

RDA: Recommended Dietary Allowance. This is the amount needed to meet the requirements of 98 percent of the population.

AI: Adequate Intake. If thereís no RDA for a certain nutrient, this value will be used instead.

UL: Tolerable Upper Limit. This is the maximum amount of a nutrient you can ingest without causing adverse effects.

% DV: Percent Daily Value. daily Value is based on a 2,000-calorie diet, because thatís the approximate energy intake of the average adult. The percentage is not accurate † if you eat more or less than 2,000 calories per day, but using other standards would be even more confusing because they are age- and gender-specific Anding explains.

DRI: Dietary Reference Intakes. Anding says that this umbrella term incorporates four sets of standards: estimated Average†Requirement (EAR), which is the amount of a particular nutrient designed to meet the [nutritional] requirements of half the population; and RDA, AI and UL.

And finally, relax. žDont panic if

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