By Nicole Parmenter, Dietetic Intern for FitNutrition, LLC and Providence College Athletics with Katie Jeffrey, MS, RD, CSSD
If you ask any Registered Dietitian about the best strategy for meeting nutrient needs, chances are they will most likely promote a well-balanced meal plan, full of nutrient-rich foods and beverages. But when your meal plan falls short of the daily recommendations for essential vitamins and minerals, a multivitamin may prove beneficial. It’s estimated that approximately 40% to 50% of Americans take a daily multivitamin. Multivitamins are intended to “supplement” one’s meal plan to avoid long-term deficiency. “[Supplements] can plug nutrition gaps in your diet, but it is short-sighted to think your vitamin or mineral is the ticket to good health – the big power is on the plate, not in a pill,” explains Roberta Anding, MS, RD, director of sports nutrition at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Of course, it’s always better to get your nutrients from food because you receive additional benefits from a multitude of nutrients including, phytochemicals, carotenoids and fiber, which most multivitamins lack. However, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the USDA, many Americans are deficient in vitamin D and don’t get enough vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. Possible factors include age, gender, pregnancy, post-menopause, avoidance of certain foods, and allergies or intolerances. If you’re unable to meet specific nutrient needs or require greater amounts of certain nutrients, supplementing your meal plan with a multivitamin may be a wise choice.
Always check with your doctor before taking a supplement and respect the recommended daily limits because receiving too much of a nutrient can cause negative consequences. For example, an adult who consumes more than 2,000 mg daily of vitamin C may experience diarrhea, nausea, headaches, hot flashes, fatigue, and insomnia. Determine if you may be exceeding the daily upper limits of a nutrient by taking into consideration the quantity you consume from plant- based and fortified foods as well as supplements. Additionally, to help ensure that you do not consume too much of any one nutrient, look for a multivitamin that doesn’t provide more than 100% of the daily value for any nutrient. If you decide to take a supplement purchase a high quality supplement that has been tested by a third party. For information on how to choose a supplement, read the blog, “Choosing a High Quality Supplement.”
Bottom Line: Taking a multivitamin is a low-risk advantage, sort of like a nutrition insurance policy as long as the vitamin does not provide more than 100% of the daily value of any nutrient and is a high quality supplement.
Reference: Zelman, Kathleen. “What Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Can and Can’t Do.” WebMD. WebMD, 28 Aug. 2011. Retrieved in January 2015.