Choosing a Multivitamin That’s Right for You

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One of the more confusing questions for many people is whether they should take a daily multivitamin. And, if so, what should I look for?

Although many experts disagree on the usefulness of a multivitamin, the one thing it seems everyone can agree on is that a healthy, well rounded diet is where everyone should start. Choosing a wide variety of healthy foods and not getting into a routine of the same diet is also advice I tell clients. Realistically, however, it is sometimes difficult to do this on a regular basis. That’s where a general-purpose multivitamin and mineral, as an all-encompassing supplement containing a broad range of nutrients that are necessary for normal functioning, growth, and development, can be beneficial.

So if you do opt for a multivitamin, how can you tell which one is best for you?

The ingredients vary widely by brand. Some provide well over 100 percent of the recommended intake of many vitamins and minerals, while others have far less.

People's diets and their needs are all unique, so not everyone requires the same amount of each nutrient. For example, post-menopausal women typically don't require as much iron, and seniors usually need additional vitamin B12. But almost everyone can benefit from multivitamin supplements that contain at least 100 percent of three key nutrients: vitamin D, vitamin E, and folic acid.

When it comes to supplementation, it is possible to get too much of a good thing, and "tolerable upper limits" have been established for many vitamins and minerals. If you're taking a multivitamin with just around 100 percent of the daily value of most nutrients, though, it's not likely that you'll even be close to these. Even so, it's a good idea to take stock of the rest of your diet. Do you tend to eat a lot of fortified foods, bars and shakes? If so, you may already be getting 100 percent or more of many key nutrients, so it may not be necessary to add a multivitamin.

For those who decide to take a multivitamin, try to get on a schedule of taking it at the same time each day. It is typically better absorbed with food (plus taking it on an empty stomach can leave you feeling nauseated). Also, some people might find that taking a multivitamin at night makes it more difficult to fall asleep. If this happens to you, try taking your multi with breakfast or lunch.

Since some vitamins and minerals can interfere with certain prescription medications, always let your doctor and pharmacist know of any supplements you're taking.

And remember that supplements are just that: supplements -- not substitutes -- to an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

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