How to Choose a Multivitamin

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 15, 2022
5 min read

Did you know that more than half of people in the U.S. take a daily multivitamin? Multivitamins can help to fill in any nutritional gaps that you might not get from your diet alone. Walking down the vitamin aisle at the pharmacy can feel overwhelming since there are so many options. If you think that you need to bulk up on some missing nutrients, here’s what you need to know when it comes to choosing the right multivitamin for you.

Vitamins and minerals are organic materials that your body needs to perform its normal functions. You get these nutrients from the food that you eat, especially whole, unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables.

Multivitamins are dietary supplements that have a number of vitamins and minerals packed into one pill. There might be other ingredients inside that claim to have certain health benefits. These supplements contain nutrients that are essential for our bodies to work properly, even though the best way to get them is through food. Multivitamins are meant to supplement your diet, not to replace healthy eating.

There are many types of multivitamins out there, so knowing how to choose the right one might not be as easy as you think. It’s important to note that multivitamins aren’t standardized, so the ingredients differ by brand or type. The companies that make dietary supplements get to choose which and how many vitamins and minerals they put in their multivitamins.

As you walk down the aisle of the supermarket, you’ll notice that there are supplements aimed at different groups of people and for different purposes. The most common product that comes to mind when you think about multivitamins is a once-daily pill or gummy that contains a day’s worth of nutrients. Because the amount of nutrients you need depends on several different factors, you’ll see that these products are often marketed to different age groups or specifically to men or women.

Common types of multivitamins include:

  • Multivitamins for women or men specifically
  • Supplements for seniors
  • Multivitamins for children
  • Multivitamins for pregnant women
  • Supplements for people with specific health conditions

Not everyone may need to take a multivitamin to get the nutrients that they need. But some people may experience the health benefits of multivitamins if something is preventing them from getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals from the food that they eat. You may need a daily multivitamin if you are:

  • Vegetarian or vegan
  • Lactose intolerant
  • Pregnant or trying to get pregnant
  • Eating unbalanced meals
  • Not eating nutrient-dense foods
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Diagnosed with certain medical conditions
  • Breastfeeding
  • Using alcohol or tobacco regularly

The best sources of the daily vitamins and minerals that your body needs are whole foods, like proteins, whole grains, and fresh produce. But people experiencing vitamin deficiencies for any reason can benefit from the compounds found in daily multivitamins.

Adults who eat a healthy, well-balanced diet probably don’t need to take a multivitamin, but if you think it might help to fill in any missing vitamins and nutrients, here are some things to look for the next time you walk down the supplement aisle.

Daily Value (DV). The first thing that you should look at when you read a multivitamin label is the DV. Looking at the label, check to make sure that the multivitamin has close to 100% of the DV of the ingredients inside. When it comes to some nutrients, like calcium, magnesium, and potassium, it’s not possible to put high amounts of them into one daily tablet. Going over 100% of the DV can actually be harmful, as these substances then build up in your body over time and could potentially become toxic.

USP seal. The next thing you want to look for is the USP seal of approval. This means that the multivitamin has the Recommended Daily Allowance of amounts of nutrients, as laid out by the United States Pharmacopeia. The seal assures that the listed ingredients and the indicated amounts are accurate and safe. These supplements are tested and don’t contain harmful heavy metals or pesticides.

Your age and gender. Some multivitamins aren’t specific in terms of to who they're marketed for. However, multivitamins that are gender or age-specific have different compositions. If you’re going to start taking a supplement, pick one that’s aimed at your gender and age group so that you're getting the right mix of vitamins and minerals.

The right nutrients. Experts agree that the average American adult often doesn’t get enough of the same five nutrients from their diet. These are:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin D
  • Potassium
  • Fiber

Look for a multivitamin that has most of these, as fiber can only be found in food. Even if you take a daily multivitamin, it’s important to work foods with these nutrients into your diet to make sure that you’re getting adequate amounts.

While multivitamins can certainly help you fill in nutritional gaps, it’s important to remember that they are not a magic cure. People often think that taking large amounts of vitamins and minerals when you aren't feeling well will ensure that you start to feel better, but this is rarely the case. Research has yet to prove that large amounts of vitamin C help you get over a cold faster or that vitamin E prevents heart disease.

Studies show that multivitamins do not help protect you against common cancers, strokes, or heart attacks. They won’t help you live longer or even extend your cognitive longevity when you’re older. Taking a multivitamin shouldn’t replace healthy habits like exercising and eating well. However, some studies show that men who take daily multivitamins have a lower risk of developing cataracts and an 8% lower chance of being diagnosed with cancer.

While research isn’t clear on whether daily multivitamins have benefits or not, the risk of taking them is also low when used correctly. As with anything, it’s best to talk to your doctor first if you’re thinking about taking a multivitamin.