What should you look for in a multivitamin?

Woman reading a pill bottle

Unlike prescription medications, multivitamins aren’t reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety or effectiveness. Manufacturers are responsible for making sure their products are safe.

Nebraska Medicine pharmacist, Kaitlyn Stewart, PharmD recommends vitamins that are United States Pharmacopeia (USP) verified. This means it’s gone through voluntary tests of purity and safety.

You should also check labels to see how much of each vitamin is included. “A good multivitamin will have 100% of the daily recommended dose of each vitamin,” she explained. “You don’t need more than that unless you’ve been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency.”

What type of multivitamin should I take?

You can take a general multivitamin or one designed for the stage of life you’re in. If you’re in menopause, for example, you may want a multivitamin with less iron, and more calcium and Vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis.

Women of childbearing age should take a prenatal vitamin with higher amounts of folic acid. “While most of us get enough folic acid in our diet, it’s especially important during pregnancy,” said Stewart.

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend vitamin supplements for children. “The best way for kids to get their recommended daily nutrients is through their diet,” said Stewart. “If you’re concerned about your child’s eating habits, I’d recommend talking to their doctor before starting a multivitamin.”

How do I know if I have a vitamin deficiency?

While multivitamins aren’t harmful for most adults, you probably don’t need one if you’re eating a healthy diet. “However, if you follow a strict, low-calorie diet, you may not be getting the nutrients you need from food alone. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you may not be getting enough of the nutrients typically found in meat, like iron and vitamin B12.”

Your healthcare provider can test you for vitamin deficiencies. They can then prescribe the correct dosage and retest to see if it’s working.

“Always talk to your doctor before taking supplements containing iron. Taking too much can be harmful,” said Stewart. “Otherwise, most of what you’ll find in a typical multivitamin is safe. Your body will flush it out what you don’t need.”

What form of multivitamin is best?

The type of vitamin you choose – whether it’s in chewable, pill, or capsule form – is mostly up to your preference. Take multivitamins with food, especially if they include iron, to avoid stomach upset.

“I don’t typically recommend gummy multivitamins as they often contain added sugar and lower dosages of the vitamins you need,” said Stewart.

If you're considering taking a multivitamin, remember they aren't a substitute for a balanced diet. It’s always best to get your vitamins and minerals from a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables. 

If you’d like help choosing the right multivitamins or other supplement, the best place to start is by talking with your doctor. Call 800.922.0000 to schedule an appointment with a Nebraska Medicine physician.