Multivitamins are everywhere. They have been touted as a way to improve your health even when you don’t have time to eat right. But because there are so many, choosing the one that is right for you or, deciding if they are right for you, is a difficult choice.
Our health is the most important thing to us these days. People are living longer and don’t want to do so hassled by a variety of illnesses. Many drug companies have answered the call with products that can help to enhance our health.
Technology has turned the world into a place of instant gratification. We have fast food restaurants, movies and music downloaded to our phones and laptops, and we are ordering ahead for prescription refills and food. Now, we can cram more work and activities into our days. It’s a wonder that we are able to keep up with our nutrition at all.
But, are multivitamins simply a fad that has no medical basis or are they an invention that can truly benefit our health? In this article, you will learn the ins and outs of the multivitamin industry. Also, find out how to choose one that is right for you, and what we often forget about nutrition that gets pushed onto the multivitamin to provide.
Knowledge is power, and finding out all there is to know about multivitamins can not only keep you safe but also help you make an informed choice for yourself and your family. Speaking of family, we will touch on the subject of kids and multivitamins as well. Parents who are confused about what multivitamins can do for them may also be unclear about the benefits and/or drawbacks for their kids.
Gone are the days when we simply accept the word of the ads and television commercials about what is best for our health. It is time to take control of the reins ourselves.
A Good Mutivitamin
What is the purpose of multivitamins? According to the literature they are one way that the body can get many of the nutrients that it needs each day. Information from studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells us that we are losing ground in the fight to maintain our health. The food choices that we make today provide about 80 percent less nutrition than we need. That’s a significant drop.
In an attempt to fight back against unhealthy habits, multivitamins provide a place to start. For people who are pressed for time in their lives and also those who are unaware of how to make proper food choices, a multivitamin can provide the body with essentials. These are vitamins and minerals needed for cellular growth, immunity and basic maintenance, not to mention energy to do the million and one things we assign to ourselves each day.
Some see them as super pills. Take just one pill each day and you can regain your health. But, are they all that they are reported to be and are people getting the wrong idea?
What They Contain
To begin, let’s put multi vitamins in their place. They are NOT substitutes for a proper diet and healthier food choices. If you plan to take a multivitamin each day and still continue to eat fast food and treat your body to harmful lifestyle choices, then you have misunderstood the concept here.
To be beneficial to the body, a multivitamin needs to be combined with a variety of improved food choices for well-rounded health. The body is a machine that uses a certain kind of fuel. When we give it fuel that isn’t totally compatible, it can act in strange ways. Have you seen the documentary “Super Size Me”? Now you get the picture.
Realistically it is hard to meet the goals of the approved food pyramid each day. You’d have to eat quite often and quite a lot. Get your nutrition from your food first. If you fall short, and many of us do, a multivitamin is there to pick up the slack, but only that.
So, what types of ingredients should a complete multi vitamin contain? The body needs a variety of nutrients for various functions. Vitamin E is essential for the growth of hair, nails and improved skin tone. The cells of the body need vitamins A, B and C for hormone production, increased immunity and brain functioning.
Other minerals that are important for daily maintenance in the body are zinc, magnesium, manganese, iron, folate, vitamin D, calcium, potassium and sodium. This is not a comprehensive list but just a small taste of what the body needs each and every day. A good multivitamin will contain most of these vital nutrients.
Take a look at the labels. It will take some time but you can discover which one will provide almost all of what your body might be missing with your diet. There is not one multivitamin that provides it all. It would be too big and no one would dare try to swallow it. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist. They can help you understand what to look for if you are uncertain.
Different Types of Multivitamins (Adults)
We are concentrating on the needs of adults here. Children are at a different stage of development than adults and their daily nutritional requirements are not the same. A vitamin that is unique to them should reflect this fact.
So, what are your choices for formulation when it comes to multivitamins?
- Capsules – Capsules can be coated or not coated. The coating or gel outside is designed to be broken down as they pass through the body, releasing its nutrients over time. They are easier to swallow than pills.
- Pills – These are usually the round tablets that you see. Depending on the number and amount of each nutritional supplement in the pill, the size can be small or rather large. Choosing a coated pill can help with swallowing as well. Many pills work better when taken with food or drink.
- Chewable – Not everyone can swallow pills of any size. Chewable vitamins are not just for kids. Adults can finally have a way to digest them without resorting to pushing a pill to the back of their throat and hoping for the best.
- Liquid – You can even purchase liquid vitamins. Just a tablespoon or a couple of teaspoons is all you need. A liquid is easier to digest and quicker to take than struggling with pills, capsules and the like.
- Powder – Some vitamin supplements are ground into powder. This can be mixed with water or juice. Avoid adding sugar to sweeten the taste. It defeats the purpose of a nutritional supplement.
A multivitamin can’t contain every vitamin and mineral our bodies need. At each stage of our lives, the body needs different amounts of nutrients like vitamin D, calcium and iron. For instance, a woman in her childbearing years will need more iron than a woman who is post-menopausal.
Calcium is needed for strong bones at all ages but especially when menopause robs the body of certain hormones. And what about vitamin D? Most of us don’t get nearly enough. It is essential for the utilization of calcium in the body.
Consult a doctor before taking extra amounts of these minerals. They can tell us how much is too much.
Benefits of Multivitamins
Even though multivitamins are not a substitute for eating the right foods, they do have benefits for those who use them as they were meant to be used – as an addition to our diet.
Multivitamins are convenient for busy people. When you don’t have time to eat as many meals as you should, your body won’t have to suffer from a deficiency.
They provide added nutrition for targeted groups. As we mentioned above, your nutritional needs change as you age and also according to gender. It may be to your advantage to seek out a targeted vitamin supplement.
For instance, pregnant women are advised to take a multivitamin each day. Many on the market contain small amounts of folic acid for general health. Increased folic acid is essential to help prevent neural tube defects in unborn children. You can get it from food but one way to ensure that you get it is through supplementation.
The age-specific varieties of multivitamins ensure that you don’t get too much of any one mineral or vitamin. An example is calcium. We all need it but menopause can rob calcium from the bones when women need it most. Over-50 formulas contain more calcium and less iron than a regular women’s multivitamin which may be just the opposite.
What Multivitamins Can’t Do
Now that you have heard a few of the benefits of multivitamins, it is time to hear about what they can’t do for you.
One, they can’t replace natural foods for gaining the nutrients the body needs. Remember we mentioned giving the body the proper fuel? Well, the body is meant to absorb natural foods like fruits, vegetables and grains.
With the advancements in food science, we eat foods that have chemicals added to prolong shelf life, add artificial sweetness, color and other properties to food. The processing of foods has removed many of the natural nutrients so that vitamins have to be added back in.
Multivitamins also cannot offer better results than natural food sources. The components of these vitamins are placed together in a pill through chemical means. When those same components are found in our food, they contain the most beneficial sources. Natural flavors and sugars are released when we eat to be utilized by the body. When there has been no chemical processing, more nutrition is passed on to us and is in a much purer form.
Some ingredients are created from synthetic sources. They are not the form of the mineral that exists in foods but come close. They work well in the formulation and still provide part of the recommended daily allowance (to be talked about later).
Before taking a multivitamin of any kind, notify your primary physician. While we ourselves don’t know how too much of a certain vitamin or mineral will react with our bodies, your doctor has some insight. They can tell you exactly how much you need and if there is a problem with supplementation.
Some components in your wonder pill may interact with medications prescribed by your doctor to keep various conditions under control. A person who is on blood thinners, for instance, wouldn’t want to get too much potassium through supplements. With something as serious as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart problems, you don’t want to take chances.
Certain substances in the supplements can prevent the absorption of your prescription meds by the body. This is similar to the effects between antibiotics and birth control pills; when taking antibiotics, birth control pills are essentially ineffective at preventing pregnancy.
Choosing a Multivitamin
Now let’s get back to the essential question. How do you find a multivitamin that is right for you? Here are a few suggestions;
- Choose from a reputable manufacturer – There are many multivitamin companies that are household names: Centrum, Nature Made, One A Day and Flintstones (for children). They have stood the test of time and offer a variety of targeted formulas to meet your specific needs.
- Check the label – A little while ago we mentioned the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). It refers to the amount of each supplement that is needed by the body each day. Alongside the total amount is the percentage that is present in that particular multivitamin. If you know your values, try to choose a supplement that comes as close as possible to the RDA without going over.
- Get sound advice – If your diet is good and includes a lot of diverse foods, you may not need as much of the RDA in your multivitamin.
Children and Multivitamins
We promised that we would mention children and their need for multivitamins. Since we were kids, Flintstone vitamins have been promoted as a way to keep children healthy. They are still on the market, but do all children across the board need to take them or any other brand of vitamin?
You may be surprised to know that the average child may not need a multivitamin at all. When eating a well-rounded diet (fruits, vegetables, protein and grains), they can forego the chewable tablet. As long as the pediatrician confirms that they are thriving and staying within the recommended percentile for their age, then the body is being sufficiently nourished.
Would it also surprise you to know that many kids are lacking in vitamin D? So are adults. It is a vitamin that comes mostly from the sun through our skin. It helps the body absorb calcium for strong bones and teeth. Children are still in the developmental stages and their bones need a lot of calcium to grow.
The use of sunscreen to prevent skin cancers can inhibit the vitamin D from penetrating our skin to do its job. If enough fortified milk is not drunk, then the bones may suffer. A vitamin D supplement alone may be recommended by the pediatrician.
Introduce your child to new foods as often as possible. Refrain from adding condiments or sweeteners or salt so they can savor the natural flavor and see if they like it. Their best chance for getting the vitamins and minerals that they require is from what they eat.
So, does your child need to take a multivitamin? Probably they do not but as long as they take a regular children’s formula, it won’t hurt them either. In that case, stick with the cheaper store-brand chewable vitamins and leave the name brands alone. They both will more than likely contain the same amounts of supplements. Compare the labels just to be sure.
To Sum Up
In our quest for good health, many rely on multivitamins to do more than they were ever meant to do. Their purpose is to supplement our nutritional needs when we can’t get the time to take in the nutrients each day through our food choices.
These vitamins were not designed to replace eating healthy foods. The sources of nutrients in food are a more concentrated form that the body can readily absorb and utilize. As long as we understand the role of multivitamins, and the consequences of supplementing without seeking medical advice, we can benefit from using them.