Do you know what's in your daily multivitamin?

Do you take a daily multivitamin? How do you know if it’s doing you any good? In an age where we can buy cheap multivitamins off the shelf at the supermarket for a few quid, or spend a hefty wadge of cash on more expensive ones from health-food shops and specialist online stores, do you really get what you pay for, or are all multivitamins more or less the same?

I think a good quality multi is an investment towards good health but I am cautious about which ones I recommend, as some of them are full of stuff our bodies don’t need, and probably can’t absorb. Here are five things to look out for when choosing your next multi-nutrient supplement:

:: First up, look for a multivitamin and mineral. Ideally you are looking for a broad spectrum multi that contains a range of minerals like zinc, iron, chromium and manganese, as well as the essential vitamins A, D, E, K and all the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folic acid).

:: Better quality multis contain active forms of minerals that are more readily absorbed. Look out for words like citrate or ascorbate after the mineral names (eg magnesium citrate, iron ascorbate). These forms are the same as what is found naturally in our food, rather than stuff like magnesium oxide, or calcium carbonate (another word for chalk!) that our bodies can’t absorb well, so we end up peeing most of it out. This is how multi-nutrients get the reputation of just creating expensive urine!

:: Look for capsules, rather than tablets. Easier absorbed and less likely to contain unnecessary binders, bulkers and fillers.

:: Some of the best multis have active forms of B vitamins – you can easily spot these by the prefix ‘methyl’ (eg methylcobalamin is the active and pure form of B12, compare to the synthetic cyanocobalamin form).

:: Your daily multi should contain at least 100 per cent of the RDA – this is the minimum amount we need to prevent deficiency. This is the baseline level we need. For example, 60mg of vitamin C will prevent scurvy, but higher levels can have a more therapeutic effect (eg to help support our immune systems).

Don’t be tempted to buy the cheapest supplement you can, as often these are poorer quality supplements that tend not to be as effective. Spend a little more and you will get a much higher quality product,

Your local health food shop

The shelves of a health food shop can look daunting if you don’t know your folic acid from your niacin, but most independent health food shops have well trained staff who can help you find a multi-nutrient that suits your needs.

This is why the small, independent shops get my vote over the multinationals. Often these family-run business have been in the health food business for generations, and they pride themselves on training staff to help inform and educate their customers, not just to sell them bag loads of supplements. #shoplocal

Your daily health insurance

Of course, a multi-nutrient will never replace the multitude of benefits we get from eating a nourishing, healthy diet, packed with wholefoods, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, good fats and all the rest, but adding a daily multivitamin and mineral is a little additional health insurance, especially as we cannot rely on the quality and nutrient density of our food due to intensive farming methods, depleted soils and food miles.

Added to this, we can have additional demands at certain times in our life when we need a little helping hand. Teenagers, older people, people eating a vegan diet, smokers, drinkers, pregnant and lactating women, faddy eaters and people with very active lifestyles may be at a greater risk of nutritional deficiency, so if you fall into one of these categories, then a daily multi give you additional help to get adequate nutrition.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 2nd February 2019.