Guide to Buying a Better Multivitamin
Even the healthiest eaters following a varied diet can have nutritional deficiencies including low levels of important vitamins and minerals. Without a comprehensive vitamin and mineral analysis, it’s nearly impossible to accurately assess which specific micronutrients you’re lacking, and even then changes in physical activity, stress, sunlight exposure, and numerous other factors can affect your nutrient needs.
Enter the multivitamin. Comprehensive multivitamins provide “nutritional insurance” by delivering adequate amounts of all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs. But not all multivitamins are created equal; many vitamin manufacturers cut costs by skimping on vitamin and mineral quantities and by using the least expensive, least effective (and sometimes dangerous) forms.
Below is a list of the vitamins and minerals you should find in a good quality multivitamin. We’ve also included the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily intake (DRI) for men and women, a recommended maximum daily intake (when appropriate), the forms to look for on your multivitamin’s label, and some common multivitamin add-ons.
|DRI* – Men||DRI* – Women||Max daily intake||What forms to look for|
|Vitamin A||900 µg or 4500 IU||700 µg or 3500 IU||3000 µg or 15,000 IU||Mixed carotinoids and/or beta carotene|
|B1 (Thiamine)||1.2 mg||1.1 mg||–||Thiamine di-phosphate or thiamine HCl|
|B2 (Riboflavin)||1.3 mg||1.1 mg||–||Riboflavin-5’-phosphate or riboflavin|
|B3 (Niacin)||16 mg||14 mg||35 mg||Niacin or Niacinamide|
|B5 (Pantothenic acid)||5 mg||5 mg||–||Pantothenic acid or D-calcium pantothenate|
|B6 (Pyridoxine)||1.3-1.7 mg||1.3-1.7 mg||100 mg||Pyridoxal-5′-phosphate or pyridoxine HCl|
|B7 (Biotin)||30 µg||30 µg||–||Biotin|
|B9 (Folate)||400 µg||400 µg||1000 µg||5-MTHF or folate/folic acid|
|B12 (Cobalamins)||2.4 µg||2.4 µg||–||Methylcobalamin or cyanocobalamin|
|C||90 mg||75 mg||–||Ascorbic acid or ascorbates|
|D||5-15 µg or 200-600 IU||5-15 µg or 200-600 IU||5000 IU||Cholecalciferol|
|E||15 mg||15 mg||1000 mg||D-alpha-tocopherol, mixed tocopherols, and/or mixed tocotrienols|
|K||120 µg||90 µg||–||Phylloquinone or phytonadione|
|Potassium||4700 mg||4700 mg||Potassium citrate or aspartate|
|Calcium||1000 mg||1000 mg||2500 mg||Amino acid chelate, malate, citrate, or carbonate|
|Magnesium||420 mg||320 mg||750 mg||Amino acid chelate, glycinate, or threonate|
|Zinc||11 mg||8 mg||40 mg||Amino acid chelate, monomethionine, or glycinate|
|Iron||8 mg||18 mg||45 mg||Iron protein succinylate|
|Manganese||2.3 mg||1.8 mg||11 mg||Amino acid chelate or gluconate|
|Copper||900 µg||900 µg||10 mg||Amino acid chelate, lysinate, or glycinate|
|Iodine||150 µg||150 µg||1100 µg||Potassium iodide or kelp|
|Selenium||55 µg||55 µg||400 µg||Selenomethionine, amino acid complex, or glycinate|
|Molybdenum||45 µg||45 µg||2000 µg||Amino acid chelate or citrate|
|Chromium||35 mg||25 mg||–||Chromium polynicotinate (ChromeMate®) or picolinate|
|Boron||–||–||–||Boron citrate or proteinate|
|Choline||550 mg||425 mg||–||Choline bitartrate or phosphatidylcholine|
|Vanadium||–||–||1.8 mg||Vanadyl sulfate|
*The DRI – or Dietary Reference Intake – listed here is for men and women ages 14 years old and above. Micronutrient needs for infants, children, teens, and pregnant and lactating women can be significantly different than those listed.
The amount of each vitamin and mineral in your multivitamin should be somewhere between the minimum DRI and maximum daily intake. For nutrients without an upper limit – especially some of the B vitamins – it’s not uncommon to see amounts that are thousands or tens of thousands of times greater than the DRI. In this case, whatever isn’t absorbed will be eliminated (which is why high doses of B vitamins can make your pee glow).
For minerals, you might notice that there are quite a few different forms – amino acid chelate, glycinate, gluconate, carbonate, citrate, etc. The different forms can provide various unique benefits, but for a multivitamin the form to look for is amino acid chelate or amino acid complex as these are the most easily absorbed.
One last note: if you’re a man it’s best to opt for the iron-free version of a multivitamin, and many manufacturers now have men’s formulas that don’t contain iron. The same goes for post-menopausal women whose iron needs are far less than what they were before menopause.