Hi Soulsters (yes, I have officially given you a nickname)! I’m finally tackling a subject that I have been meaning to discuss for a long time. After reading my Vitamin Guide for Vegetarians, which is a free guide that teaches you which plant-based foods are rich in vitamins (click here to access), several readers asks me if I think they need a multivitamin on top of their diet. The answer is…
Yes and no.
Sorry! Wish I could give you a clear answer, but it’s a little more complex than that. Below I explain 1) why you might need a multivitamin and 2) How to choose a multivitamin (and stick until the end because I’m giving you a free cheat-sheet!). Keep in mind that the information below pertains to men aged 18 to 50 years old and non-pregnant non-lactating women aged 18 to 50 years old.
Why you might need a multivitamin
1) For days your diet isn’t a 100% on point
While I show you in my Vitamin Guide a meal plan I use to ensure I get the vitamins I need, there are times I don’t stick to it. For example, I might be at a restaurant chosen by my dad for his birthday party (my parents love all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ. Very few vegetable selections there!). Or I may be eating at a friend’s house and will eat what is served to me. I know some people stick to their guns, but if a friend cooked something for me with love and I’m not allergic to it, I’m going to eat it!
Yes, I try to pick the healthier options on the menu, but sometimes even the healthy option isn’t all that nutrient-dense. On days like this, I will take a multivitamin to compensate for my diet. I simply make sure these situations happen on occasion, and is not something I do regularly.
2) Stress and pollution are causing your body to use up your vitamins
The vitamins in your diet may meet the required range suggested by the National Institute of Health. However, if you live in a city where pollution is high or are undergoing a lot of stress, your body may be using up your vitamins quicker than if you lived completely chilled out on the country side. Therefore, you’ll need more than the recommended average dose per day.
The vitamins and minerals that are used up quickly by stress and pollution are Vitamin A, C, and E, which have an anti-oxidant role. In addition, demands for zinc and selenium, which have a supportive role in the antioxidant process, are high too.
3) Food isn’t as nutritious as it used to be
Because of monocropping and other practices used by the farming industry, the soil in which vegetables and grains are grown in isn’t as rich in vitamins and minerals as they used to be. This means that even if you are eating the required servings of plant foods, you still may be lacking in vitamins because your foods aren’t as nutrient-dense as expected.
Organic farming is looking to address this issue by rotating the crops grown in a single space and using safer agriculture practices. However, it’s going to take a while for us to bring the soil back to its previous state.
4) You just “want to be sure”
While this isn’t a strong argument per say, some people just “want to be sure” their nutrient intake is on point. It’s like nutrition “insurance”. If you chose to go down this route, eat the healthiest foods you can (because food should always be your main source of nutrients), and take a multivitamin to top it off.
Just keep in mind that if you have no vitamin deficiency, a multivitamin isn’t going to help you much. However, if you stay within safe total daily intake limits (see below for more information), it isn’t harmful either.
How to choose a multivitamin
1) Adequate doses
The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) and Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) have been developed to determine how much vitamins and mineral someone needs in a day (from food and supplement intake). On the other hand, Tolerable Upper Intake Levels details what quantities are considered safe.
When choosing a multivitamin, it is important not to exceed the Tolerable Upper Intake Level. While short-term toxicity will be rare, you might develop chronic overdose if taking a high-dose supplement.
Now the second advice falls into a bit of a greyer zone. Because the RDA include both dietary and supplement intake, your multivitamin doesn’t need to contain the same amount as the RDA. After all, I’m assuming you’re eating a relatively healthy diet and are getting a considerable amount of nutrients from your diet (if you aren’t, focus on that first before taking a supplement). However, because the range between the RDA and Tolerable Upper Intake Levels is quite large, the vitamin content in your food and your supplement will likely still remain within safe levels.
I made a printable sheet that you can bring to the drug store to compare side by side with multivitamin bottles before you choose a brand. You can access it here!
2) Once a day formula, or several times a day?
While I love the convenience of once a day pills, breaking up our vitamin intake through out the day is a smarter approach.
For one thing, if a single pill contained all the vitamins we need in a day, that pill would be HUGE. Like need-to-perform-Heimlich-maneuver huge.
Second of all, several minerals have a maximum rate of absorption. What I mean by this is that past a certain quantity, the body isn’t able to absorb the mineral. An example of this is calcium where they body can only absorb 500 mg at a time. So while I need 1000 mg of calcium per day, if I took a single dose of 1000 mg through a vitamin, 500 mg would simply stay in my GI track and get eliminated. Waste of money!
In addition, minerals compete with each other to get absorbed by the body. If one mineral is too highly concentrated compared to the other minerals, it will prevent them from getting absorbed. An example of this is high doses of calcium, which inhibits the absorption of iron and magnesium. Therefore, from an absorption point of view, it makes more sense to have your vitamin and mineral intake distributed through out your day (as it’s the case with food) to enhance balanced absorption of all minerals.
Finally, choosing a formula that can be taken 2 to 4 times a day allows for a more individualized approach. A person who already eats a variety of whole foods may only need 1 tablet to top of their nutrient needs. Someone who just went on a cheat-day frenzy might need to take 4 tablets that day.
3) Not all forms are created equal
Magnesium oxide is the cheapest forms of magnesium, and it’s the one most often used by companies. However, it’s also the form that is least absorbed by the body. Magnesium citrate is a better alternative.
Just like magnesium oxide, calcium carbonate is the cheapest and most often used for of calcium. As you saw it coming, it’s also the least absorbed by the body. Instead, calcium citrate is a good alternative.
c) Vitamin E
Favor the d-alpha form, which is the same form of vitamin E as found in food. Avoid dl-alpha, which is less well absorbed.
d) Vitamin D
Favor the Vitamin D3 form, as it is more effective and absorbed than D2. However, D2 is suitable for vegans.
4) Men can skip the iron
Men only require 8 mg of iron per day. If you are a vegan male, then you need 18 mg. Compared to women who need 18 mg (or 32.4 mg if vegan), 8 mg is easily obtained through the diet. Therefore a multivitamin without iron may be appropriate for men. However, in most cases, iron contain in multivitamin are present in such small quantities that it won’t make much of a difference.
As mentioned several times throughout this blog post, I do take a multivitamin supplement. A pharmacist specialized in natural products recommended me Genuine Health’s multi+ complete multivitamin (I was not sponsored to say this!). You can take up to 4 tablets a day to meet the RDA of most vitamins. As I eat a good variety of plant-based foods and I’m pretty mindful about my dietary nutrient intake, I take between 1 to 2 tablets only. If not, he also recommended Sisu’s Multivitamin 50+. You might not have these brands where you live, so print out my cheat-sheet to choosing a multivitamin to help you chose a brand.
By the way, I didn’t go into the functions of each vitamin and mineral as that information can easily be found on the Internet. One website I trust is the National Institutes of Health. They have great fact sheets on vitamin, minerals and herbs. Visit https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/ to learn more. When you’re in a fact sheet, make sure you select “Consumer” for easy-to-understand information.
I hope you found this article interesting and that it help you decide whether or not you need a multivitamin. If you did, why not share it with a friend? 🙂 Also, please do remember that supplements are not substitutes for a healthy and balanced diet. As much as possible, eat your vitamins! If you haven’t gotten your free copy of my Vitamin Guide for Vegetarians yet, click here to get it.
Much love and hugs,