Expert Q&A

Multivitamin/mineral supplement: Should you take one?

I eat a healthy diet. Do I need to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement?

Many experts now agree that there's sufficient evidence that taking a daily multiple vitamin-mineral (MVM) supplement makes sense. The primary purpose of taking one is:

  • Provide a convenient way to obtain a variety of supplemental nutrients in a single product,
  • Prevent vitamin or mineral deficiencies, and
  • Achieve higher intakes of nutrients believed to be of benefit above typical dietary levels.
    • Note: According to current research, nutrients needed at increased levels include folic acid, vitamins B6, B12, D, C, E and calcium. These nutrients help to prevent heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and other chronic diseases.

The westernized diet provides does not come close to supplying the minimum nutrients necessary for optimal health. The environment plays a role also (less nutrient-rich soil and air pollution). The perfect diet would include lean protein, 5-10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables (think dark green leafy, deep orange-yellow, and a citrus selection), a serving of nuts, seeds, beans and plenty of whole grains as well as plenty of calcium-rich foods… just for starters! 

A standard MVM does not make up for an unhealthy diet, however. It does not provide the hundreds of compounds (phyto-chemicals such as lycopene) that offer tremendous health benefits and must be consumed from natural plant foods. A MVM provides a mere shadow (sort-of nutritional safety net) of what's available from eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

In addition to the above nutrients, vitamin A (in the source of beta-carotene), vitamin K, vitamin B-complex and the minerals magnesium, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, and possibly iron are all necessary in a good, complete MVM. I n general, we could all benefit from a daily MVM to supplement a healthful diet. One-a-day type formulas are convenient and safe so long as they are balanced and not too high in any one nutrient. Not all MVMs are created equal. For detailed information on what you should look for in a MVM, see this article.

Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN
Contributing Expert

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