Navigating the Multivitamin Maze

Navigating the Multivitamin Maze

There are a number of sound reasons to consider using a multivitamin. In theory, we should be able to rely on a healthy, varied diet to supply our bodies with all the necessary nutrients they need. It’s pretty clear that this was Mother Nature’s original plan. And for the majority of our human existence, we’ve been able to follow it.

Relatively recent modifications in the way our food supply is grown and managed, however, have drastically reduced the quality—and variety—of what we eat. When combined with the proliferation of environmental toxins, we are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of factors that make it difficult to achieve optimal health and fitness without nutritional supplement support. But buyer beware: Not all multivitamins are created equal.

When evaluating multivitamin formulas, it’s important to know that their quality can vary greatly. The inexpensive, mass-marketed one-a-days contain minimal amounts of a random assortment of synthetic (and poorly utilized) nutrients—just enough to meet the government’s recommended daily allowance (RDA). Their more expensive, designer-label counterparts aren’t really any better. They often contain hundreds of vitamins and minerals, but they are still synthetic and difficult for the body to use.

Don’t invest your time and money into nutritional supplements that don’t work. Learn the basics before you buy. First, become familiar with the three, most common types of multivitamin formulas:

1. Combinations of isolated supplements

These formulas contain ingredients that are artificially produced in a lab. In fact, many of them contain ingredients derived from crushed rocks and petrochemicals. Read the label and you’ll see an ingredient list with names like calcium carbonite and thiamine mononitrate—synthetic chemicals that can be identified by their two-part name. As explained previously, the amount of these pseudo nutrients can range from a little to a lot. But regardless of their dose, they don’t provide any significant benefits to the body.

2. Food-based supplements

Food-based supplements also contain the isolated, synthetic nutrients described above along with at least a few ingredients derived from food and/or plant extracts and powders. Read the label of a food-based supplement and you’ll see two-part chemical names along with some ingredients you can actually recognize—spinach powder, orange extract, or rice bran. The addition of food-based ingredients increases the bioavailability of the product’s total nutrient blend over those made solely of synthetics.

3. 100% whole-food supplements

Whole food supplements contain raw, whole food concentrates which provide the broadest possible spectrum of vitamins and minerals along with the vital phytochemicals and co-factors that naturally enhance the body’s ability to utilize them. Read the label and you’ll see the familiar names of all the fruits and vegetables you love—carrots, oranges, beets, and broccoli.

Now that you understand the importance of what should go into a multivitamin, it becomes just as important to understand what should not.

The list of ingredients below was copied directly from one the world’s best-selling multivitamin formulas. The reason for this supplement’s popularity has everything to do with marketing and nothing to do with its quality or effectiveness. Look closely at the label ingredients and what you’ll see is not only an over-priced mix of poorly-absorbed synthetic chemicals, but a whopping dose of preservatives, additives, colors, fillers, processed oils, and genetically modified ingredients (which have all been highlighted in yellow). So much for taking something that’s good for your health!

Calcium Carbonate, Magnesium Oxide, Potassium Chloride, Ascorbic Acid (Vit. C), Dibasic Calcium Phosphate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, dl-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vit. E), Pregelatinized Corn Starch. Contains < 2% of: Acacia, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Beta-Carotene, BHT, Biotin, Calcium Pantothenate, Calcium Stearate, Cholecalciferol (Vit. D3), Chromium Picolinate, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Crospovidone, Cupric Sulfate, Cyanocobalamin (Vit. B12), FD&C Red No. 40 Aluminum Lake, FD&C Yellow No. 6 Aluminum Lake, Ferrous Fumarate, Folic Acid, Gelatin, Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Hypromellose, Soy Lecithin, Lycopene, Magnesium Borate, Magnesium Stearate, Manganese Sulfate, Medium-Chain Triglycerides, Modified Food Starch, Niacinamide, Nickelous Sulfate, Phytonadione (Vit. K), Polyethylene Glycol, Polyvinyl Alcohol, Potassium Iodide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit. B6), Riboflavin (Vit. B2), Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Metavanadate, Sodium Molybdate, Sodium Selenate, Sorbic Acid, Stannous Chloride, Sucrose, Talc, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vit. B1), Titanium Dioxide, Tocopherols, Vitamin A Acetate, Zinc Oxide. May also contain < 2% of: Maltodextrin, Sodium Aluminosilicate, Sunflower Oil, Tribasic Calcium phosphate

Armed with this new information, navigating the multivitamin maze should become much simpler.

Avoid the big-brand, commercial products that are nothing more than a chemical mix of synthetic nutrients that provide no proven, or long-term health benefits. Opt, instead, for a high-quality, whole-food formula crafted exclusively from real fruits, vegetables, and botanicals—blueberries, apples, oranges, and cranberries; carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and kale, ginger, garlic and turmeric with thousands of studies confirming their comprehensive and lasting benefits.

Having some trouble tracking a whole-food multivitamin supplement down? Leave me a comment and I’ll respond with some specific recommendations.