At almost every lunch ‘n learn on nutrition and weight loss, I have received the same, very good question: Should I take a multivitamin? My standard answer? Yes. Multivitamins have received a bad reputation in several recent studies, which link them to an increased risk of death. The fact is that for almost every study that comes up with a certain result, there is going to be another study that gives the exact opposite result. Overall, there are more studies that support the use of a daily multivitamin than recommend against doing so.
The truth is, no matter how hard you try, it’s virtually impossible to receive all of the nutrients you need each day, while still staying under the amount of calories you need to maintain or lose weight. I like to think of a multivitamin as an insurance policy to cover any nutrients you may not be getting the full recommended daily allowance (RDA) of on a given day. Multivitamins should not be used as an excuse to eat unhealthfully; rather, they should be a supplement to a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables. Remember, your body is going to absorb nutrients best in their natural form – i.e. when they are contained in real foods – so it is very important to eat a nutritious diet.
Some people worry that they may be going well over the RDA for certain vitamins and minerals if they combine a healthy diet with a multivitamin, but there are two main reasons why this usually does not occur: for most vitamins and minerals, your body can only absorb so much at a given time – any extra gets excreted out; and, even though a food or supplement may claim to contain a certain percentage of the RDA for a nutrient, your body will probably not absorb 100% of the nutrient, which means it’s important to obtain nutrients from a variety of different sources all throughout the day.
So what should you look for when it comes to choosing a multivitamin? If you are in overall good health, my recommendation is to choose a vitamin that contains close to 100% of the RDA for most nutrients, and never (with the exception of vitamin D) any more than 100%. Generally, the one-a-day varieties are pretty spot-on when it comes to nutrient content, so those are always a good bet. Women should also look for vitamins with added calcium and vitamin D, and women of childbearing age should make sure their multivitamin contains folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects in unborn children. I normally don’t recommend adult gummy vitamins, as they often contain either too high or too low percentages of most nutrients, and they may not be absorbed as well as vitamins you swallow. Finally, if you are concerned about taking a multivitamin or have specific questions about what nutrients you need, talk with your doctor or pharmacist – vitamins can only be beneficial if they’re used properly and you’re taking one that contains the right nutrients for you.