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Multivitamins 101: Do you need one?

by Rebecca Jacobs

Multivitamins are one of the most common supplements used in America. In fact, half of American adults are taking some form of vitamins.

According to Hopkins Medicine, this number jumps up to 70% for older adults age 65 and up. (1) That’s a huge percentage of Americans taking a multivitamin regularly.

However, are multivitamins worth it?

Interested in finding out if you should be taking a daily multi? We’re sharing the 101 on multivitamins and breaking down everything you need to know. From the benefit of whole food multivitamins, to what to look for in a multivitamin, we’re covering all the bases.

Do You Need a Multivitamin

One of the most common questions when it comes to supplementing with a daily multivitamin is if it’s necessary. Are multivitamins worth it?

While a multivitamin should not replace a balanced and nutrient-dense diet, a high-quality whole food multivitamin can help complement a wholesome diet. This is because the foods we eat are not the same as the foods our ancestors ate. Even a whole foods based diet can be void of certain important vitamins and minerals due to soil depletion. The truth is that the fruits and vegetables we are consuming have become less nutritious over the last half a century.

A study found that we would have to consume eight oranges to get as much vitamin A as our grandparents would have received from eating just one! (2)

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry also took a look at the US Department of Agriculture’s nutritional data from 43 different vegetables from the years 1950 and 1999. They concluded that there was a decline in nutritional value over these years. Researchers saw a decline in protein, vitamin C, B2, iron, phosphorus, and calcium. They attributed the nutritional decline to the change in agricultural practices such as pesticide use and growth rate. (3)

These two studies are bringing to light some serious facts about the soil our food is grown in. It also gives us a better idea as to why a daily multivitamin may be a good idea to fill in nutritional gaps, even if we follow a whole foods diet.

“Americans are well-fed but undernourished”

While soil depletion is a big reason we are not getting all the vitamins and minerals we need from diet alone, the Standard American Diet is a whole separate issue we need to address.

The processed, convenience foods so many Americans rely on as their sole sources of nutrition are a big cause of nutritional deficiencies. Processed and artificial foods are nutritionally void of important nutrients we need for optimal health.

Functional Medicine Doctor, Chris Kresser has stated that Americans are well-fed, but undernourished. (4) This is an epidemic in our country and an issue that many Americans are dealing with.

A study found that 31% of the US population was at risk for developing at least one vitamin deficiency. The study also concluded that those who did not take a multivitamin had a 40% risk of developing a nutrient deficiency, as compared to those who supplemented with a multi, who only had a 14% risk. (5)

What this shows us is that the Standard American Diet is leading to vitamin deficiencies, and even if we focus on a nutrient-dense diet full of fruits and veggies we still need to be vigilant.

Consider the studies we’ve referenced when asking yourself if you should take a multivitamin. It’s clear that those who supplement with a quality multivitamin regularly are at a lower risk of deficiency.

Pair a whole food multivitamin with a balanced diet, and you can help reduce your risk of deficiency and support your overall health.

Multivitamins Fill in Nutritional Gaps

It can’t be stressed enough how central a healthy diet is to overall nutrition. Even though fruits and vegetables may not be as nutritious as they used to be, it’s still important that we include them in our diet. They provide us with antioxidants and fiber that other food sources can’t match up to.

However, since the soil many of our foods are grown in is depleted, a whole food multivitamin can help fill in nutritional gaps. A multivitamin can help ensure we are getting what we need, especially the vitamins and minerals that are depleted in our soil like iron, B2, phosphorus, and calcium.

What are The Most Common Vitamins & Minerals Found in Multivitamins?

Multivitamins should contain a whole spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Below you will find information on the RDA/AI, according to the National Institutes of Health, for the most common water and fat-soluble vitamins and minerals found in your daily multi. Plus, food sources of each. (6)

WATER-SOLUBLE

RDA: The recommended daily allowance is the average daily intake that meets 97-98% of the nutrient requirements of most healthy people.  

AI: The adequate intake levels are used when there isn’t enough research available to provide an RDA.

Vitamin RDA/AI Food Sources Effects/Benefits

Thiamine

RDA Women: 1.1 mg

RDA Men: 1.2 mg

Beans, nuts, sunflower seeds, whole grains

Converts food to energy, supports normal nervous system function

Biotin

AI Women: 30 mcg

AI Men: 30 mcg

Eggs, whole grains, salmon, liver, pork, avocados, cauliflower, raspberries

Helps support protein, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism as well as energy storage

Niacin

RDA Women: 14 mg

RDA Men: 16 mg

Beans, beef, nuts, whole grains, fish, poultry

Helps convert food into energy, and supports the production of cholesterol

Riboflavin

RDA Women: 1.1 mg

RDA Men: 1.3 mg

Eggs, milk, poultry, fish, spinach

Converts food to energy, helps with red blood cell formation

Pantothenic Acid

AI Women: 5 mg

AI Men: 5 mg

Beans, avocados, eggs, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, whole grains

Converts food into energy, helps support red blood cell formation, and provides nervous system support

Folate

RDA Women: 400 mcg

RDA Men: 400 mcg

Beans, dark leafy greens, asparagus, avocados

Helps prevent birth defects, supports red blood cell formation, and protein metabolism

Vitamin B6

RDA Women: 1.3 mg

RDA Men: 1.3 mg

Salmon, tuna, potatoes, chickpeas

Supports immune and nervous system function, as well as protein, carb, and fat metabolism

Vitamin B12

RDA Women: 2.4 mcg

RDA Men: 2.4 mcg

Eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy

Converts food to energy, helps support the nervous system, and red blood cell formation

FAT-SOLUBLE

RDA: The recommended daily allowance is the average daily intake that meets 97-98% of the nutrient requirements of most healthy people.  

AI: The adequate intake levels are used when there isn’t enough research available to provide an RDA.

Vitamin RDA/AI Food Sources Effects/Benefit

Vitamin A:

RDA Women: 700 mcg RAE

RDA Men: 900 mcg RAE

Dark leafy greens, eggs, carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers

Supports vision and immune health, and red blood cell formation

Vitamin D 

RDA Women: 600 IU

RDA Men: 600 IU

Cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, eggs

Help support the immune and nervous system, and supports calcium production, and hormone balance

Vitamin E

RDA Women: 15 mg

RDA Men: 15 mg

Eggs, fish, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, peanuts

Acts as an antioxidant, supports the immune system

Vitamin K 

RDA Women: 90 mcg

RDA Men: 120 mcg

Dark leafy greens and broccoli

Helps with blood clotting, and supporting strong bones

MINERALS

RDA: The recommended daily allowance is the average daily intake that meets 97-98% of the nutrient requirements of most healthy people.  

AI: The adequate intake levels are used when there isn’t enough research available to provide an RDA.

Vitamin RDA/AI Food Sources Effects/Benefit

Iron

RDA Women: 18 mg

RDA Men: 8 mg

Meats, dark leafy greens, beans, raisins, prunes.

Helps support growth and development, red blood cell production, and energy productions

Iodine

RDA Women: 150 mcg

RDA Men: 150 mcg

Seaweed, turkey, potatoes, dairy

Important for proper thyroid function, needed for growth and development, and to support a healthy metabolism

Zinc

RDA Women: 8mg

RDA Men: 11mg

Beef, poultry, seafood, dairy, beans, whole grains

Supports proper immune and nervous system function, helps promote wound healing, needed for growth and development

Selenium

RDA Women: 8 mg

RDA Men: 11 mg

Eggs, meat, Brazil nuts, poultry, seafood, whole grains

Acts as an antioxidant, helps support immune function, thyroid and reproductive health

Copper

RDA Women: 900 mcg

RDA Men: 900 mcg

Lentils, nuts, seeds, organ meats, whole grains, cocoa

Acts as an antioxidant, supports energy, iron metabolism, and nervous system health

Manganese

RDA Women: 1.8 mg

RDA Men: 2.3 mg

Nuts, beans, spinach, sweet potato, whole grains

Helps with carbohydrate, protein, as well as cholesterol metabolism, helps promote wound healing

Chromium

AI Women: 25 mcg

AI Men: 35 mcg

Turkey, meats, whole grains, broccoli, apples, bananas

Supports carbohydrate, protein, as well as fat metabolism, and promotes proper insulin function

Molybdenum

RDA Women: 45 mcg

RDA Men: 45 mcg

Beans, nuts, whole grains

Helps promote enzyme production that help metabolize drugs and toxins

capsules close upWhole Food Multivitamins vs Synthetic Multivitamins: Which is best?

It’s important to note that while supplementing with a multivitamin can help make sure your body is getting what it needs, not all multivitamins are created equal. It’s more beneficial to choose a whole food multivitamin over a synthetic one.

What is a Whole Food Multivitamin?

A whole food multi is made from concentrated whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whereas synthetic multivitamins are made artificially from chemicals in a lab. The big difference here is that whole food supplements will be much more bioavailable to your body as your body will recognize a food-based supplement much better than a synthetic vitamin that was made artificially to mimic certain nutrients.

What to Look For in a Multivitamin

When looking for a multivitamin, you will want to look for a handful of things.

  • Whole food based and made from concentrated fruits and vegetables.
  • No artificial fillers such as corn, wheat, milk, soy.
  • Avoid any artificial colors, which may show up on a label as FD&C, followed by a color and a number.
  • Stay away from hydrogenated oils like hydrogenated soybean oil. These oils can increase the risk of coronary heart disease. (7)

Avoid multivitamins that contain titanium dioxide. This is used as a colorant and has been linked to lung inflammation, kidney damage, and intestinal inflammation. (8)

FAQ About Multivitamins

Now that you know all about multivitamins let’s take a look at some common FAQ to help you answer the question of should I take a multivitamin?

Who should take a multivitamin?

Answer: Due to the often inadequate food sources found in our daily diets, we aren’t getting all of our nutrients from foods. For this reason, we may all benefit from supplementing with a whole food multivitamin. As one research study showed, those who took a multivitamin had a lower risk of deficiency.

As always, be sure to use a food first approach, and use the multivitamin as a complement to a balanced diet.

Older adults, as well as, vegans and vegetarians may also benefit from supplementing with a multivitamin, and pregnant, and breastfeeding moms should speak with their doctor about the right supplement for them. (9)

What’s the best time of day to take a multivitamin?

Answer: Most people take their daily multivitamin with breakfast. However, a tip here is to take your multi with a meal that contains some healthy fats like olive, avocado, or coconut oil to help support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. (10) If you have a sensitive stomach, take it at the end of your day, and always check with your doctor about combining a multi with any medications you may take. They may suggest that you take your multivitamin at a different time than when you take your prescription medication.

What is % daily value?

Answer: When you look at the back of your multivitamin bottle, you will see a % daily value and how much of each vitamin is in your multi. You don’t want a multivitamin that has excessive amounts of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) as your body doesn’t get rid of these as easily as water-soluble vitamins. This can lead to an excessive buildup of these vitamins fairly quickly.

You don’t want a multivitamin to provide way more than what the daily recommended value is. Keep in mind that you will be getting some nutrients from the healthy foods in your balanced diet as well so excessive intake of these vitamins is not necessary.

Each vitamin and mineral has its own tolerable upper intake level (UL). According to the National Institutes of Health, the UL is the maximum daily intake that is not likely to cause adverse effects. For example, the upper intake level of vitamin D for adults in 4,000 IU. So, you wouldn’t want your daily vitamin to have amounts this high.

Can a multivitamin replace the need for certain foods?

Answer: No, they should complement a well-balanced diet, and should not replace nutrient-dense foods. Diet first, multivitamin last.

Can a multivitamin replace the need for certain foods?

Answer: No, they should complement a well-balanced diet, and should not replace nutrient-dense foods. Diet first, multivitamin last.

The Bottom Line: Complement Your Healthy Diet

Supplementing with a whole food multivitamin is a great way to make sure you are giving your body the nutrients it needs to thrive. A high-quality food-based multivitamin can help fill in any nutritional gaps.

However, remember that it should only be used as a complement to a healthy diet, and should not be a replacement for a whole foods diet.

Use a food first approach to support overall wellness, and use a whole food multivitamin as a booster to ensure that you are getting everything you need.

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2 comments

  • magrPlyvHnK 03:07 PM

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  • Penny Brown 03:06 PM

    Loved the information. Now, where do we get a whole food multivitamin that is really good? All of the vitamin companies say they are the best.

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