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There are lots of good reasons to take a multivitamin. Even the best eating plans can fall short of meeting all of the 40-plus nutrients you need each day. Most Americans fail to meet dietary recommendations for many reasons, including strict dieting, poor appetite, changing nutritional needs, or less-than-healthy food choices. Taking a once-daily multivitamin is an easy way to fill in small nutritional gaps.

But strolling down the vitamin aisle to choose the best multivitamin can be confusing. With so many different brands and varieties to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin.

WebMD offers simple tips to take the guesswork out of the choosing the right multivitamin for you.

Why Take a Multivitamin?

In a nutshell, it’s wise to make sure your diet is complete with all the nutrients needed for health and wellness.

Healthy eating remains the best source of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. A multivitamin is not a substitute for healthy food or a healthy lifestyle, but it can provide a nutritional back-up for a less-than-ideal diet. "If your diet eliminates whole food groups or you don’t eat enough variety of foods -- you would benefit from a once-daily multivitamin," says Karen Ansel, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified calcium, vitamin D, dietary fiber, and potassium as nutrients of concern for inadequate intake in adults and children. All of these nutrients, except fiber, come packaged in a multivitamin. Fiber can be obtained as a separate supplement, but it's still best to try to get all your fiber from the foods you eat.

Although some evidence questions the benefit of a daily multivitamin and its ability to stave off disease, many people add them to their diet to maintain or boost health.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than half of U.S. adults take dietary supplements. Multivitamins are the most commonly used supplement, with 40% of men and women reporting they take a daily multivitamin.

The Harvard School of Public Health suggests a once daily multivitamin with extra vitamin D for most people as a nutritional back-up. The Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center at Oregon State University suggests taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement with 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for most vitamins and essential minerals to maintain health.

Experts may not agree about the effects of daily multivitamins. But, in bridging nutrient gaps, it’s reasonable to assume that multivitamins not only support general health, but may help head off chronic conditions or other health risks. For example, a woman could take a supplement containing folic acid to help avoid some birth defects, or a supplement with calcium and vitamin D to lower her risk of osteoporosis.

The risk of dietary deficiencies is greater than the risk of overdosing on a multivitamin. "Most American diets are missing nutrients and taking a once daily multivitamin will not cause harm, and has the potential to improve a nutrient-poor diet," Ansel says.