Is Your Multivitamin Worth Taking?

July 17, 2015

Is Your Multivitamin Worth Taking?

You shop at Whole Foods, eat kale chips and grab yourself an organic superfood smoothie every chance you get. If someone were to open your refrigerator door, they would find some Fage Greek yogurt, free-range chicken eggs and two different flavors of almond milk. Unlike most of your friends, you actually pay attention to what you put into your body, so that means you are getting all of the needed nutrients for optimal health... Right?

Well, even though over 68% of Americans are overweight—and that is mostly attributed to consuming excessive amounts of processed food—the reality is, the very processing that makes many foods calorie dense actually breaks down or destroys a lot of the micronutrients (vitamins) needed for our bodies to operate at an optimal level. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has concluded that we all should be popping at least one multivitamin pill per day to rule out any possible vitamin deficiencies. [1]

“But, I eat a healthy, well balanced diet with little to no processed foods,” you might claim. That may be true, but you probably also put EXTRA stress on your body taking hot yoga three times a week, busting a move in your favorite Zumba class—oh, and let’s not forget about your occasional indoor tanning visit to keep that “healthy glow.” Sorry to break it to you, but if your goal is “optimal” health, not just “I’m alive aren’t I?” health, then you’re going to want to start taking a multivitamin. So, how are YOU supposed to know which one is the best multivitamin for you?

Quantity

First off, let’s be clear that the term “multivitamin” actually refers to a multivitamin/multimineral supplement. A multivitamin should contain both vitamins and minerals in the needed amounts to ensure you meet the standards that are considered “sufficient” by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. [2] I’m not going to bore you with all of the details about each and every one of the individual vitamins and minerals, but some of the important ones you want to make sure your multivitamin contains 100% of are:
  • Vitamin A
  • Folic acid
  • Niacin
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Copper
  • Zinc
Getting 100% of things like calcium and magnesium in pill form would mean you’d be swallowing handfuls of pills and that might be overkill. Not to mention your body can only absorb around 500mg of calcium at any given time, so you need to spread out its consumption anyway. Maybe eat some more of those kale chips to get the calcium your body craves?

Quality

Not all ingredients are created equally. When it comes to finding the best multivitamin you are going to have to take a peek at the back of the bottle to better understand what you are getting. Things to look for:
  • Look for a multivitamin that is made from whole food sources instead of the cheaper lab-created chemicals. This should be easy to spot as the manufacturers will probably print this in bold since they tend to be proud of this qualitative fact.
  • Watch out for “oxides.” The oxide forms of some ingredients tend to be the cheapest forms and also the lesser effective form. This will usually be seen with magnesium, zinc or copper.  Try to find the citrate or glycinate forms as they are much more readily usable by your body.
  • Get the better form of B12. The less expensive form of vitamin B12 is cyanocobalamin, but you don’t want the cheap stuff, you want the form that your body can absorb the best and that is methylcobalamin. I know it seems like we are splitting hairs here, but if you are going to put it in your body, why not make sure it works, right?
  • Look for the “d” version, not the “dl” version of vitamin E. Vitamin E usually comes in two forms, "d-alpha tocopherol" and "dl-alpha tocopherol". The "d" form is what is found in food sources and the "dl" indicates it is synthetically manufactured, a petroleum by-product not easily utilized by our bodies. Go with the naturally occurring version if at all possible.

Delivery

Quality and quantity of micronutrients are only two-thirds of the equation when it comes to getting the most out of your multivitamin. How exactly you get those goodies from sitting in the palm of your hand out to the cells of your body where they can really help you function optimally?

There are lots of options floating around out there, (gummies and chewables, liquids, capsules and even fizzing effervescents,) but the old standard of compression tabletized multivitamins is still the one to go with, like this one from Gaspari Nutrition, formulated especially for women. Gummies and chewables are appealing due to their taste, but they tend to be packed with sugar and have fewer active ingredients.  Liquids seem like a great option for those who don't like swallowing pills, but many liquid multivitamins use preservatives that can actually interfere with the effectiveness of the active ingredients. Capsules seem like they are a good way to go until you realize that when those capsules burst open in the stomach acid, ingredients like iron and zinc can oxidize due to your stomach acids thereby negating their value. Think of it kind of like those minerals “rusting” and you can see why capsules aren’t the way to go.

Stick with the compression tablets as a good manufacturer will compose their multivitamins so that they can stay somewhat intact through the majority of the journey through your stomach acid and into the small intestine when nutrients are actually absorbed. This means you get more effectiveness out of your multivitamin and that’s something we all want if we are going to spend the money to get the right quality and quantity of ingredients to feed our bodies.

Take a moment and read the back of the bottle next time you are looking to pick up a multivitamin and make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck. While they aren’t miracle pills by any means, it only makes sense to get the best possible multivitamin for your hard-earned dollars.

Sources:

  1. Fletcher RH and Fairfield KM. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: Clinical Applications. JAMA, June 19, 2002; 287:3127-129.
  2. http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/dietary-guidance/dietary-reference-intakes/dri-nutrient-reports



Leave a comment