Multivitamins: Do You Need A Multivitamin?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 10:53am

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

If you walk through any drugstore you will find the shelves lined with every kind of vitamin imaginable. How do you know which is the right one for you? And do you really need to take a vitamin and mineral supplement? Take our quiz to see if you’re a good candidate!

Multivitamin supplement quiz

  1. Are you a teenager, pregnant, breastfeeding or elderly?
  2. Are you a picky eater and avoid one or more food groups on a regular basis?
  3. Do you skip one meal or more on a daily basis (just having coffee for breakfast doesn’t equal a meal!)?
  4. Do you have a food allergy or intolerance so that you cannot eat certain foods from a food group (e.g. lactose intolerance)?
  5. Are you a vegetarian or vegan?
  6. Are you dieting or following a low calorie diet?
  7. Are you under a lot of stress at home or at work on a regular basis?
  8. Do you eat a lot of fortified foods?
  9. Do you follow the New Food Guide Pyramid? The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that most adults aim to consume 6-11 servings of grains (make at least 2-3 of those rich in whole grain), 2 or more servings of fruits, 3 or more servings or vegetables, 2 or more servings of low fat dairy, and 2-3 servings of protein (meats, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts).

If you answered “yes” to the above questions (with the exception of numbers 8 and 9), then it might be a good idea for you to take a multivitamin supplement.

What to look for in a multivitamin

  • Complete supplement. Look at the label for the Daily Value (D.V.) percentages for each ingredient listed. Make sure it does not exceed more than 150% of the D.V.

  • Label. Look on the back of the label for the USP code. USP stands for the United States Pharmacopoeia. This label means that the makers of the supplement have had it tested by an independent agency to ensure potency and accuracy of the ingredients.
  • Expiration date. Look at the back of the label or on the bottom of the bottle for an expiration date. Do not use if past the date. The vitamin and minerals may no longer be absorbed by your body.
  • Calcium content. Calcium is a large molecule which means that the size of the supplement will be larger if there is a lot of calcium present. It is actually better to have a lower calcium amount (100-200 mg) in a complete vitamin and mineral supplement because it will not interfere with the rest of the ingredients in the pill. If you need to take a calcium supplement (recommended daily amount is 1000 mg) buy a separate pill of calcium that has vitamin D and vitamin K added. Look for a pill that contains about 500 mg per dose, which is about all your body can absorb at one time. Take this supplement at a different time than your complete multivitamin for maximum absorption. Do not take it with a meal rich in dairy.
  • Iron content. If you are a woman of childbearing age, or if you do not eat red meat or leafy greens, look for a multivitamin that contains iron (10-18 mg). Otherwise you do not need to include iron in your multivitamin.

Once you get your supplement home make sure to store it in a dark, room temperature, dry place. Keeping supplements in the bathroom medicine cabinet is not a good idea. The moisture from the hot water decreased the effectiveness and shortness the shelf life of the supplement.

For general information on multivitamins see Multivitamins: General Info and for choosing a multivitamin see: Multivitamins: How to Choose a Multivitamin.