How to Pick the Best Whole Food Multivitamin

There are countless options when it comes to selecting a multivitamin, but not all multivitamins are created equal. If you’re going to be spending your hard-earned money on a dietary supplement, you expect the supplement to be as effective as possible.

Unfortunately, synthetic multivitamins are not well absorbed by the body and are largely excreted through the urine. The best option for people who are looking to take a multivitamin is a whole food multivitamin. If you’re not sure how to pick the best whole food multivitamin, consider this your guide.

What are the benefits of multivitamins?

Although people once received the vitamins and minerals they need through diet alone, our modern Western diet is unfortunately devoid of many of the fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins that we need in order to avoid nutritional deficiency. Processed foods, simple carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats are the staples of the Western diet, which means many people in the United States do not receive vitamins and minerals from their diets in the quantities that they need. Therefore, it is possible to consume an adequate amount of calories and still be considered nutritionally deficient. The most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the United States include vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, iodine, vitamin A, and magnesium, some of which affect more than half of the population. In order to address these deficiencies and bridge existing nutritional gaps, some people take multivitamins.  In addition to correcting potential deficiencies, multivitamins can also have the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of certain types of cancers caused by nutritional deficiencies
  • Reduced risk of heart attacks and death from heart disease
  • Decreased risk of age-related macular degeneration in older adults
  • Improved memory in older adults
  • Prevention of birth defects in pregnant women, such as neural tube defects in infants resulting from low levels of folate

Who should take a multivitamin?

Although it might seem like taking a multivitamin can only be a good thing, there are some situations in which people should not take multivitamins. Therefore, it is important to talk to your doctor before taking any type of multivitamin in order to ensure that the vitamin will not cause any interactions with your current medications or existing health conditions. For example, people who take medications that contain a large amount of vitamin A, such as Accutane, should not take a multivitamin containing vitamin A, as having too much of the vitamin can cause vitamin A toxicity. High levels of vitamin A can also be dangerous for pregnant women. Therefore, it is always best to check with your doctor before you start using any new prescription medication, over the counter drugs, or dietary supplements. Although multivitamins are not right for everyone, they do offer benefits for many people.  The following groups are most likely to benefit from the regular use of a multivitamin:

  • Vegans and vegetarians: People who follow plant-based diets are more likely to experience nutritional deficiencies because some vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, are only found in large quantities in animal-based products. As a result, vegans and vegetarians are more likely to be deficient in these vitamins unless they receive them from other sources, which can be challenging.  Vegans and vegetarians are more likely to be deficient in calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, zinc, and vitamin D. 
  • Older adults: As we age, the body naturally becomes less efficient at absorbing nutrients from food. Vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D levels are likely to be low in older adults as a result, but multivitamin supplements can help correct nutritional deficiencies. Older adults may also benefit from improved memory and a reduced risk of experiencing age-related macular degeneration. 
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have unique nutritional needs compared to women at other stages of life, which is why it is important for pregnant and breastfeeding women to receive the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals. Adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, including folate, is critical in order to prevent birth defects in unborn or nursing children. 

People with certain digestive disorders that impact nutrient absorption, those on low-calorie diets, individuals with a small appetite, and those who do not receive enough vitamins and minerals from their diets may also benefit from a multivitamin.Other groups of people that can benefit from a multivitamin include individuals who have had gastric bypass or other types of weight loss surgery, as these procedures may impact the body’s ability to absorb and utilize certain nutrients from food. 

What are the different types of multivitamins?

There are many different brands of multivitamins for sale, but they all fall into three main types: whole food multivitamins, standard multivitamins, and glandular multivitamins.

Whole food multivitamins

Whole food multivitamins are currently considered the best option for multivitamins because they are best absorbed and utilized by the body when compared to other multivitamins. Whole food multivitamins derive their minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients from whole foods, the majority of which are dried food concentrates. Consuming a whole food multivitamin is essentially the equivalent of eating a big salad in a much smaller form. The ingredients in whole food multivitamins are usually natural, non-synthetic, non-isolated forms of the vitamins and minerals your body needs, which is why they are better absorbed and utilized by the body. 

Standard multivitamins

Standard multivitamins are the most common type of multivitamin and are the least expensive to manufacture and produce. These multivitamins are comprised of synthetic chemically isolated vitamins, and most multivitamins that you find at your local pharmacy fall into this category. While standard multivitamins are inexpensive, they are also less effective. The body is better able to absorb and use multivitamins that are delivered in a natural form, so we are more likely to have difficulty utilizing nutrients delivered through synthetic multivitamins. In addition to being less effective, standard multivitamins are also more likely to cause nutrient imbalances in some people.

Glandular multivitamins

Glangulare multivitamins are supplements that derive their included vitamins and minerals from the tissues and organs of certain mammals, such as cows or pigs. All of the nutrients contained in glandular multivitamins are animal based, which means that they are not suitable for people following a plant based diet, including vegetarians and vegans. Unfortunately, these groups are often most likely to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals and would benefit most from a multivitamin supplement.

What should you look for in a whole food multivitamin?

One stroll down the vitamin aisle of your local pharmacy or one quick internet search for multivitamins immediately reveals just how many options there are when it comes to choosing a multivitamin. By following a few simple guidelines, it is possible to easily determine which vitamins are high quality, made of whole foods, and likely to be used best by your body. Look for the following when searching for a multivitamin:

  • Contains bioavailable nutrients, or vitamins and minerals in their active form. Bioavailable nutrients are more readily absorbed and used by the body, which increases their effectiveness in addressing deficiencies. Look for active vitamin D3 instead of inactive vitamin D2, vitamin K2 instead of K1, folate or methylfolate instead of folic acid, and methylated B vitamins instead of synthetic B vitamins.
  • Labeled as being gentle on the stomach in order to prevent digestive distress
  • Free of common allergens like gluten, dairy, corn, yeast, soy, caffeine, and peanuts
  • Contain a CGMP or GMP stamp on the label, indicating that the multivitamin is manufactured in accordance with the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices. These guidelines were outlined by the FDA in order to provide added accountability for the consumer and ensure the absence of contaminants, promote quality production, and ensure accurate labeling.
  • Produced in an FDA-registered facility to promote transparency 
  • List minerals in their chelated forms (i.e. folate versus folic acid) for better absorption by the body.
  • Free of artificial sweeteners and flavors, chemical binders or additives

How to Pick the Best Whole Food Multivitamin

When it comes down to making a decision, picking the best whole food multivitamin will require you to be an educated consumer and read the labels of the whole food multivitamins that you are considering. One way to know that you are looking at a high quality product is to look at the label and check to see if the manufacturer provides a source for each vitamin and mineral. Vitamins that derive their ingredients from real food will usually state which food is used as the source of the nutrient, while synthetic chemicals that are produced in a lab will not list a source. The label should be clear and easy to understand, so if you find yourself becoming confused about the source of each vitamin, it’s time to move on to the next product. There is a large number of whole food multivitamins  on the market, so you’re sure to find one that your body can absorb and use if you put the time into doing your research.