Even the most informed shopper can be challenged by the prospect of choosing a multivitamin. Between the different ingredients, numerous brands, and conflicting information, it’s hard to know what’s best for you and your family. Our guide gives you the A, B, C’s—and D’s and K’s—of selecting the right multivitamin to meet your family’s needs. Keep the following in mind when selecting multivitamins:
Supplements are not meant as replacements for a healthy diet. Getting good nutrition from food is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, however, supplements may help cover nutritional gaps.
Prenatal multivitamins are a must for pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant. Due to their high levels of certain nutrients, prenatal vitamins are only appropriate for pregnant or nursing women, and women trying to become pregnant.
Some multivitamins may contain extra ingredients to rev up metabolism or increase energy, such as caffeine, green tea extract, and guaraná. Consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider regarding whether these are safe and beneficial for you.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking a multivitamin, especially if you are taking medications or are considering a multivitamin that contains herbs. Nutritional and herbal supplement ingredients may interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications and may not be safe for some people.
Consider other relevant lifestyle factors when selecting a multivitamin. For example, if you’re especially active, try a multivitamin formulated for athletes. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, a multivitamin without animal ingredients, such as gelatin, that provides extras you may not be getting from food, is a good option.
Some multivitamins do not meet complete needs for all vitamins and minerals, so consider additional supplements if appropriate. For example, many women take extra calcium and vitamin D for bone health.
Natural multivitamins tend to be more expensive than synthetic or “manufactured” versions. For many nutrients, the natural and synthetic forms are identical, so paying extra may not make sense for some people. For other nutrients, however, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, the natural forms may provide health benefits you wouldn’t get otherwise.
Multivitamins for Men & Women
What they are: Gender-specific multivitamins are formulated to address men and women’s different nutritional needs.
Why to buy: Basic multivitamins may not provide enough of certain nutrients or too much of others for some men and women.
Things to consider: Gender-specific multivitamins may or may not address age-specific nutrient needs. Read labels carefully and pick a product that meets not just your nutrient needs by gender, but also by age.
Multivitamins for Children
What they are: Multivitamins formulated for children address the different nutrient needs of kids, based on age. Formulas are available for babies, toddlers, school age children, and adolescents.
Why to buy: Children require less of some nutrients and more of others to nourish growing bodies. Children’s multivitamins address these unique needs and are available in chewable and liquid forms, making them easier for kids to take.
Things to consider: Adult multivitamins aren’t meant for kids, so stick to age-appropriate children’s multivitamins. Avoid artificial colors, flavors, and added sugars—things many parents do not want to give their children.
Multivitamins for Older Adults
What they are: Often sold as “senior” or “silver” multivitamins, these formulas address nutrition needs that change with advancing age.
Why to buy: Seniors need more of some nutrients and less of others. For example, after age 70, the recommended amount of vitamin D increases from 600 IU to 800 IU.
Things to consider: Ask your doctor if medications you take affect your nutrition needs or your body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. Also ask if it’s safe to take your vitamins at the same time as your medications. Some nutrients and medications can interact with one another, and taking them separately is important for health.
Multivitamins for Women Who Are Pregnant, Trying to Become Pregnant, or Nursing
What they are: Prenatal multivitamins provide necessary extras for a healthy pregnancy, such as additional folic acid, other B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and zinc.
Why to buy: Regular multivitamins do not provide enough of critical nutrients to ensure healthy development of your baby. Shortages of certain nutrients can increase the risk of serious birth defects, so a prenatal multivitamin is a smart choice if your trying to become, or already are, pregnant.
Things to consider: If you are trying to get pregnant, be sure to start your supplements beforehand as nutrition may protect your baby best before you even know you’re pregnant. After your baby arrives, ask your doctor for advice on whether to continue taking your prenatal vitamin or whether to switch to a different formula for women who are breast-feeding. If you aren’t breastfeeding, you can go back to your usual age-appropriate multivitamin for women.