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What to Look for in a Multivitamin

  • Read the label carefully. Product labels identify which nutrients are included and the amounts contained within each serving.
  • Get the basic vitamins and minerals. Most multivitamin preparations usually include the following vitamins and minerals: vitamin C, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, folic acid (B9), B12, B5 (pantothenic acid), biotin, A, E, D2 or D3 (cholecalciferol), K, potassium, iodine, selenium, borate, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, betacarotene, and iron.
  • Check the percentages. In general, choose a supplement that provides 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for most of the vitamins and minerals in that supplement. Some nutrients, like calcium and magnesium, are rarely included at 100% because the pill would be too large to swallow.
  • Look for the extras. Modern multivitamins are available in a wide variety of formulas that are aimed at helping people with specific nutritional needs or conditions. Some of the more popular ones come with or without iron, or as high-potency formulas that contain at least two-thirds of the nutrients called for by recommended dietary allowances. Other multivitamins can contain additional select nutrients like antioxidants, or formulations that are specialized to specific conditions, like prenatal vitamins.
  • Formulas for men, women, and age groups. Choose a multivitamin designed for your age and sex so that the nutrients included will be right for you.
  • Don't overdo it. Avoid multivitamins that exceed 100% of daily recommended values, because supplements are in addition to the nutrients in food, and some, in large doses, can build up and become toxic.

Selecting Multivitamins for Your Age and Sex

Most multivitamins are formulated for the nutritional needs of different audiences. "At different stages of your life, your nutritional needs change, and a well-chosen multivitamin can ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need as you age," Ansel says. In addition to multivitamins aimed at groups like seniors, some multivitamins are aimed at women of childbearing age who may need extra iron in their diet, or prenatal vitamins for women who are contemplating pregnancy or who are already pregnant.

Because most multivitamins don’t include enough vitamin D or calcium, Ansel suggests taking these nutrients as additional supplements unless your diet is rich with milk, fish, and/or calcium-fortified foods and beverages.

For women only. These multivitamin supplements are designed for women in the child-bearing years. These include nutrients in the amounts close to requirements for women from 18 to 50, including more iron and folic acid to help prevent birth defects in women capable of becoming pregnant.

Just for men. Tailored to the nutrient requirements of adult men to age 50, these multivitamins contain higher doses of several vitamins and minerals, and don’t often include iron because men need less.

For seniors. Mature multivitamins are customized for men and women over the age of 50. "These formulas take into account that after age 50, absorption slows down for a few nutrients like calcium, vitamins B6 and B12, and you need more vitamin D," says Ansel. Your body no longer produces enough of the acid needed to break down the naturally occurring vitamin B12 from food. Synthetic vitamin B12, found in dietary supplements and in fortified foods, is easier to absorb and does not require the acid from your body.

Choose a senior multivitamin formulated specifically for your sex. There are several nutrient recommendations that are different for men and women over the age of 50. When women stop menstruating, their iron needs drop to the same levels as a man’s. Women who eat a balanced diet most of the time can take a senior multivitamin with very little or no iron.