When it comes multivitamins, you should only take one to fill potentials gaps in your diet while still attempting to meet your nutrient needs through food. Only 10% of Americans are eating enough veggies and fruit — not to mention the fact that 10% of us don't get enough dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium and omega-3's, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We're also lacking in choline and vitamins A, D, E and C, the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 found. These nutrients have one main, overarching theme: They’re all found in plant-based foods, seafood and fortified dairy products (or non-dairy alternatives).
Before taking a multivitamin, consider maximizing your intake of fiber, antioxidants, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids by loading up on the veggies, plant-based protein, fruit, unsweetened dairy products, 100% whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes (plus plant-based oils for cooking). If you’re a seafood eater, aim for 8-12 ounces of seafood every week (about 2-3 standard servings) to reap the benefits of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
But since there may be moments when you require a little extra help, dietary supplements can lend a hand.
How to Choose a Multivitamin:
- Do your homework. Supplements are not evaluated for safety and efficacy by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). This means that there’s not a 100% guarantee that you’re getting what you pay for when you purchase a supplement. You can check that any supplement you’re considering follows the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices and also look for products tested by a credible third party, like NSF for Sport, USP Certified, or ConsumerLab.com. These ensure that there’s no harmful substances (e.g., lead, which has been found in supplements) in the products themselves and also verifies that what’s in the bottle is what it claims to be — like vitamin C rather than grains of rice in tablet form!
- Check with your doctor. It’s crucial that you always check with your physician before starting any supplement regimen. Supplements can interfere with medications you're taking, or you may need to change the time you take them. You may also have an allergy or intolerance to an unlisted ingredient or an underlying condition causing a nutrient deficiency. In a medical emergency, having a specific dietary supplement listed on your chart can help healthcare providers, too.
- Consider your food, first. Supplements can’t do much for you unless you’re actually deficient in a given nutrient. That said, we know it’s highly likely that we’re not getting everything we need from food every single day (see the above statistics on that!). It’s the habits that comprise our dietary patterns overall that make the most significant impact on our health — not just taking a supplement!
To recommend multivitamins that work for you, we looked at the factors that often affect women at various stages of life and corroborated with ConsumerLab.com, an online, third-party database where testing of specific ingredients can be verified for safety. Our three general categories include: multivitamins for women at any age; multivitamins for women over the age of 50 and prenatal vitamins.
The key difference in supplements marketed as general women’s multivitamins and ones geared toward women over 50 is that they contain slightly more iron and less calcium and vitamin D. Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen via your bloodstream, making it crucial for energy metabolism — especially if you're doing a lot of high-intensity physical activity. That said, supplements with higher iron content can make you feel slightly nauseous or constipated, depending on the form of iron in the specific brand you’re taking.
Other factors can influence the specific nutrients you may need, including whether you're in peri- or postmenopause; pregnant or lactating; or vegetarian or vegan. If you do fall into the category of women who need both extra iron and calcium, you’ll want to take your iron-containing vitamin and separate calcium and vitamin D supplement at different times of day, since calcium can block the absorption of iron in your GI tract. On the flipside, vitamin C helps you absorb iron in food form, so try to eat more tomatoes, citrus, broccoli and leafy greens to maximize nutrient absorption.
Each of these vegan tablets provides 14% of your daily value (DV) for iron (2.5mg), as well as 100% of your daily value for vitamins A, C, D, K and many B vitamins. On top of that: this product is certified organic, gluten-free, non-GM and free of the icky fillers and synthetic binders that are no good for your health.
A purely vegan supplement, Seedwell's daily multivitamin helps to bridge possible nutritional deficiency gaps in vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. The brand packs in nine different essential nutrients into its supplement, touting better-for-you nutrient sources like Shiitake mushrooms, and particularly relies on iron, zinc and vitamin B12 to help supplement a meat-free diet. The 50mcg of vitamin B12 plays a role in regulating red blood cell health. This is key to avoiding issues like anemia, which commonly leads to chills and fatigue for those enjoying vegan or vegetarian diets. The Good Housekeeping Institute worked with the Seedwell team by evaluating the multivitamins and vetting the claims attached to them.
One A Day's Women's formula also checks the boxes when it comes to those key nutrients many of us are missing. It contains 100% of your daily value of iron (18 mg), high amounts of vitamins A, C and D, as well as plenty of B vitamins — the latter of which help your cells turn food into energy.
Ritual's Essential for Women vitamin is 100% vegan and includes nine important ingredients: folate, omega-3's, B12, D3, iron, K2, boron and magnesium. The inclusion of omega-3's, which can help regulate inflammation and reduce blood clotting, is rare for a multi — and this product includes 330mg to boot!
While ConsumerLab.com found issues in most gummy vitamins it tested, these Nature's Way gummies lived up to the brand claims. Two Alive! gummies contain high daily values of essential vitamins such as vitamin E (15 mg) vitamin B12 and B6 (3.6 mcg and 2.6mg) as well as a blend of fruit and veggie powders. If you are vegan or lean more vegetarian, you'll be happy to know that they are made out of pectin (a plant-derivative) instead of gelatin (which, dare we say, comes from certain not-so-scrumptious parts of a cow or pig). But if you're looking for something that's sugar free, this isn't going to be your pick. One serving size has 4g of added sugar.
Over the age of 50, your body will often require less iron but increased intake of calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients function in tandem: Calcium is primarily stored in your bones and it's indispensable to cellular function — especially in your muscles, nerves and glands.
Vitamin D is in charge of the maintaining bone mineral density and managing calcium levels. It can draw calcium from your bones to raise blood calcium; help absorb the calcium you eat in your GI tract; and recycle calcium in your kidneys if you need more (that would otherwise be lost in urine).
With that in mind, there’s certainly no reason to toss out your multis at the age of 49 and three-quarters. Any multivitamin that’s been third-party tested and approved will contain similar nutrients no matter what the marketing says! Plus, your doc may recommend taking a vitamin D supplement (or even a prescription level supplementation), since it’s harder to get enough from the sun as we age, though it becomes even more crucial for maintaining strong bones over time.
This brand's been around for decades, and the classic version is still a solid choice for covering your bases. It's high in vitamin C, D3, B6 and B12. This multi also contains 200mg of calcium (17% DV), which can keep your bones strong and help stave off osteoporosis.
Thorne — a company that works with professional athletes — does thorough research and testing on all of their products and aims to create supplements that can be absorbed as optimally as possible. That being said: This product has 240mg of calcium (18% of your DV) plus a significant amount of magnesium, which could help your muscle and nerve function in the long run.
Each tablet of this CVS-brand multivitamin contains 22% of your daily recommended amount of calcium and more than an entire day's worth of vitamin D. It's also chockfull of vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that protects cells from harmful free radicals.
Country Life's manufacturing plant is NSF-GMP certified to maintain product standards and this product does not disappoint. You're looking at 200% of you daily value in vitamin D and 22% of your daily value in calcium. As a plus, this multi also contains probiotics to aid with digestion.
The key nutrients to look for in any prenatal and multivitamin is a safe level of folic acid (400-600mcg); choline (200-600mg) DHA/EPA (250mg/day); and iodine (150mg), a relatively newer update to prenatal recommendations as per the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The nutrient most often associated with pregnancy has traditionally been folic acid (or synthetic folate) because it offsets risk of fetal brain defects during the first trimester. However, many supplements include more folic acid than necessary (sometimes even more than what's listed on the packaging). Take too much, and you just pee out the excess folic acid your body didn't use. Folate is also found in 100% whole grains and enriched grain-based products like cereal, bread and rice.
Prenatal vitamins also typically have higher amounts of choline, a vitamin that's especially important for fetal brain development and may even help prevent birth defects. The foods that contain the most choline are less intuitive than you might realize — two large eggs contain more than 50% of the recommended amount for pregnant women.
Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA are important for immune function, decreased risk of chronic disease and fetal brain development. You can find them in various nuts, seeds, oils and soy, but DHA and EPA are best absorbed by your body when they come from marine sources. The seafood with the highest amounts include salmon, sardines, and herring. To maximize the benefit of any multivitamin supplement: Eat at least two to three (8-12 ounces) servings of mixed seafood per week. If you’re not keen on seafood or avoid fish of all types, consider an algal oil supplement, which also has the benefit of a non-fishy aftertaste.
FYI: ConsumerLab.com found that many tested prenatal supplements lacked in one or more of those key areas, so your best bet may be to take both a standard multivitamin with additional choline and/or DHA/EPA (depending on your current seafood intake) to get everything you need.
And it's most important to speak with your doctor before taking any supplement while pregnant.
These certified USDA Organic prenatal vitamins are made from real foods like guava, apples, lemon and beets. In one serving, you get 600mcg of that oh-so-needed folate for expecting moms. But you won't find choline or any omega-3's in this vegan product so it might be best to pair it with another of the recommended supplements below.
These Costco multivitamins have been third-party tested by USP, and at only $0.03 per tablet, cost considerably less than other supplements on the market — especially when you buy them in bulk. You'll get over 208% of your daily value in folate with this one as well has plenty of vitamin A, C and E.
If you're looking for choline specifically, try these capsules. Swanson formulates their products according to Good Manufacturing Practice's guidelines and they offer a 100% money back guarantee if, for whatever reason, you're not satisfied with your supplements. By the way, choline isn't just great for supporting fetal health during pregnancy, it also helps you with memory, mood and muscle control and may help reduce risk for liver and heart disease. You might want to consider this supplement — with your MD's permission, of course — even if you're not expecting.
The American Pregnancy Association loves this brand of omega 3's because it provides 480 mg DHA and 205 mg of EPA per serving (2 soft gels). It well surpasses their minimum recommendation for pregnant and lactating women, plus it's third-party tested and non-GMO.
Since they're derived from algae instead of fish, these vitamins are vegan and vegetarian friendly. They contain 200mg of DHA per serving, which is a bit below the recommended amount for pregnant women. Check in with your doctor, though, before you decide to up your serving intake.
Unlike many other multi's, Klaire Labs' formula contains choline — 150mg of it, in fact. It has 50 mcg of vitamin D, as well as 227% of your daily value of folate. Above all, Klaire Labs' makes sure to deliver you a quality product by following Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines.