Written by Holly Bradich
Given the innumerable varieties and brands of vitamins and supplements out there, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with questions: Do I really need a multivitamin? Do I need to bother taking probiotics if I eat yogurt and don’t have chronic digestive issues?
The goal of today’s post is to help answer some of these complicated questions regarding multivitamins so you can make informed choices as a consumer about which supplements are best for you.
First Thing’s First: Do I really need a multivitamin?
Let’s make one thing clear: a multivitamin is not a substitute for a poor diet.
It’s important to know that multis give you the bare minimum of your daily requirements and therefore are in no way a substitute for poor eating habits. In order to meet your required daily allowance (RDA) of any vitamin or mineral, you must still eat real, whole, nutrient-dense foods.
Those who don’t necessarily need a multivitamin are individuals who: live without food allergies, intolerances, chronic digestive issues, and/or absorption disorders while eating a varied, healthy diet consisting of many servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
However, food allergies are on the rise. For example, if you are gluten intolerant or Celiac and are avoiding wheat products, you may become deficient in B vitamins and iron, as Health Canada purposely fortifies wheat products like cereal so we don’t become deficient. And other than major brands like General Mills, most gluten-free companies are not yet making fortified options. If you are dairy-free, you may become deficient in calcium and vitamin D, which are important for strong bones. Unfortunately many milk alternatives are not fortified.
Canada’s Food Guide recommends 8 to 10 servings per day of fruit and vegetables for adults. Let’s be real, how many of us consistently meet this guideline on a daily basis? With all these factors considered, most people will probably need a multivitamin to meet their daily RDA of vitamins and minerals.
Okay, so I probably need to take a multi-vitamin. What are some things I need to consider?
Always read the label on a multi, especially when it comes to its serving size. The ingredients and dosages may look impressive, but you might have to take 3 to 6 capsules per day to get that amount. Many high-quality multis will be one-a-day, but it will also be a larger pill. As such, if you’re someone who has trouble swallowing bigger capsules, your best bet is to stick with a multi that asks you to take multiple, smaller pills throughout the day. To help remind yourself to take them, try setting a reminder in your phone or make a habit of taking them with each meal.
What if I hate swallowing pills in general?
There are a few brands available in powder or liquid, but because of the number of ingredients, the taste might be unpleasant. Your best option here is likely to shove them in a smoothie or juice to mask the taste.
Why are there herbs in my multi?
Many multis contain added herbs that are chosen based on the population they’re targeted for.
For example, a multivitamin for women under 40 may contain herbs such as ginseng for energy and vitex for PMS symptoms. While these herbs can be helpful, it’s important to know that many herbs interact with prescription medicines and can cause serious side effects due to how potent they are. Make sure you speak with a pharmacist or naturopath before starting a multivitamin that contains herbs if you’re on prescription medication.
Another option would be to take a multi without herbs. Though these can be hard to find, unisex multis commonly do not have any herbs added so they are your safest option.
Do I need iron in my multi?
Iron deficiency is common in women who are still menstruating every month, so in that case you’d need iron in your multi or in a separate iron supplement at a higher dose if your doctor has said you’re highly iron deficient.
With that in mind, know that most unisex multis do not contain iron (as men usually do not need this mineral) so you may have to take a separate iron supplement if you’re a menstruating woman. However, never take an iron supplement without first talking to your doctor; if you are not low in iron it can build up in your body and become very toxic.
If you feel you have the symptoms of mild iron deficiency but have not yet been tested by your doctor, simply try adding more iron-rich foods into your diet such as beef, beans, and leafy greens.
What to Look For—And What to Avoid
In terms of things you want in a multivitamin, sticking to non-GMO options that extract their vitamins and minerals from whole foods is your best bet. The brand “Garden of Life” makes some good ones, as well as “New Chapter” and “MegaFood.”
As for things to avoid, oftentimes companies put “fillers” into their vitamins to make production faster and easier, make the supplement look more physically appealing, or make it easier to swallow. The problem is, these ingredients often don’t do anything to help your body and are best to be avoided. Here are some of the main ones that you should be aware of:
These have been linked to ADHD in children and numerous other health issues. Plus, some colours are made from coal tar. Just… no.
2. Hydrogenated oils
Recap: “hydrogenation” is a chemical process where hydrogen is added to liquid oils to make them solid. Partially hydrogenated molecules have trans fats—the worst type of fat for your body. In other words, there’s really no need or benefit to having this ingredient in a vitamin that’s supposed to improve your health!
3. Titanium dioxide
This is often used as a pigment in supplements, but has been linked to cancers, autoimmune disorders, and other diseases. Essentially, it offers no health benefits, so why consume it?
The Bottom Line
The truth is, most of us need multi-vitamins, but do not forget that they do NOT make up for unhealthy eating habits. Eat a diet that consists of a variety of whole foods, but let vitamins help cut you some slack.
If you're looking for more information on which multivitamin might be best for you, I'd recommend checking out this post on Reviews.com. Their team spent six weeks testing 300 varieties of multivitamins, consulting with physicians, dieticians, and investigative journalists, and concluding which supplement has all of the essential vitamins and minerals without all the junk. Amazing!
You Tell Me!
What's your favourite multi-vitamin brand? Let me know in the comments below!!