We’re strong advocates of getting balanced nutrition through healthy meal plans but it won’t necessarily be enough for everyone.
It’s not always possible to get the full range of vitamins and minerals needed
for good health through diet alone. It’s not just linked to poor diet, either. Some health conditions and medications can make it harder for the body to absorb nutrients effectively.
Coeliac disease and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are just two examples of conditions and medications that can affect your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian and you’re not sure how to balance your nutrition, you may be struggling to consume enough calcium, iron, zinc and other key nutrients.
It can also be trickier for the body to absorb nutrients as you get older. Multivitamins can be helpful for filling in gaps in nutrition.
What are multivitamins?
As the name suggests, multivitamins are supplements that contain multiple vitamins and minerals. Some may also contain additional ingredients, such as herbs.
Our bodies need 13 key vitamins to work at their best. These are the eight B vitamins, plus vitamins A, C, D, E and K. Most of these vitamins aren’t created in the body so you need to be consuming them regularly through your diet to avoid deficiency. This is so important for vitamin C and B vitamins – they’re water-soluble and your body will flush out any excess rather than storing it.
Besides vitamins, the body also needs essential minerals to function at its best. This includes well-known minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc and trace minerals such as copper, manganese and selenium.
Most multivitamins will include all of the essential vitamins and minerals that are needed for optimal health but they vary in terms of the amounts.
Do you need to take a multivitamin?
There are a few things to consider when you’re weighing up whether to take a multivitamin.
One thing to consider is your day-to-day nutrition and any other supplements you’re currently taking.
If you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking multivitamins, you may consume more than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for many of the vitamins and minerals if you also take a multivitamin. This is because multivitamins often contain the full RDA (and sometimes more than the RDA).
If you take any individual supplements, adding a multivitamin into your routine could take you over the RDA for those nutrients, especially if you also consume them through your diet.
If you think that health or lifestyle factors might be putting you at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, blood tests can check your current levels so you can see if it might make sense to take a multivitamin.
What to consider with multivitamins
While multivitamins can provide essential nutrients, they don’t provide the fibre and other nutrients that you would get from eating whole foods.
Medications are another thing to think about. If you’re currently on prescription medication, make sure it won’t interact with a multivitamin.
Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about this.
Most multivitamins will state how their ingredients measure up to the RDA so you’ll easily be able to see what percentage of the RDA you will get from each tablet. Check the dosage for fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) in particular.
Because any excess of these vitamins isn’t excreted by the body, they can build up and have the potential to cause problems. Too much vitamin A can be harmful (especially if you’re pregnant), for example. Even water-soluble vitamins can be dangerous in very large amounts.
And be aware that some vitamins and minerals can interact and make absorption less effective. Iron can make it harder for the body to absorb zinc, for example. This is something to think about if you’re concerned about becoming deficient in specific nutrients.
Choosing a high-quality multivitamin
If you decide to take a multivitamin, look for one that is high-quality. Low-quality, cheap supplements are often packed with fillers, binders, additives and other ingredients that won’t do much for your health. The fewer ingredients the better, in most cases!