Multi-vitamins: do we need them?

So many of us take a daily nutritional supplement as a little extra health insurance alongside our healthy diet, popping a supplement into our shopping trolley alongside our vegetables, oily fish, seeds and all the other food we buy to help keep ourselves well nourished.

Do you take a multi-vitamin?

Whether you buy your multinutrient from a supermarket, or from your local health food store, how do you know if your multi is good, bad or average? Is it a wise investment, or are you wasting your money? Here are a few things to look out for when buying a multi:

  1. A multi should be more than just a multivitamin. Look out for one containing a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, to provide you with a whole spectrum of nutrients. Some multis include additional ingredients like antioxidants, bioflavonoids, enzymes or small doses of probiotics.
  2. Check the ingredients list. What manufacturers leave out is just as important as what they put in. Binders, fillers, anti-caking agents, sweeteners and flavourings are not needed in your multi.
  3. It is a tablet or a capsule? Generally speaking, capsules contain less binders and other unnecessary ingredients than tablets. Capsules may also be easier for your body to absorb, as they can be easier for us to break down in the digestive tract.
  4. Minerals like zinc, iron and magnesium have to be bonded to a carrying agent in nutritional supplements. These are usually listed in the nutritional information panel, or the ingredients list. Some forms of minerals are more easily absorbed than others, and these tend to be the forms that are found naturally in our food. Keep an eye out for forms like citrates, ascorbates, as these tend to be easier for the body to use, compared to oxides and carbonates that have an inorganic bond that can be a little more difficult for the body to break apart and absorb.
  5. Buy a multi-nutrient that suits your needs. These days it seems there is a multi-nutrient for just about anyone. It is important to choose one that suits your age and stage of life. Men or women’s multis, pregnancy formulas, over-50s supplements – these are all specifically formulated by supplement companies to provide the right balance of nutrients to adequately support your body, so choose one appropriate for you, as what suits you may be slightly different from your partner.
  6. ‘Food state’ multinutrients mirror how nutrition works in nature by combining basic nutrients with food extract and phytonutrients to help maximise absorption and bioavailability.

Do you really need a daily multinutrient?

Is it really worth taking a daily multi-nutrient, or do we just pee it out?

I would recommend that a nutritional supplement should not be seen as a replacement for all that a balanced, healthy, varied diet can provide. Food offers so much more than just vitamins and minerals, so get the basics of a good diet right first.

But, there is a ‘but! We know that the food we eat today is not as rich in vitamins and minerals as it was in the past, thanks to food processing, processing and storage methods, farming techniques and food miles, so taking a daily multi can provide us with a baseline.

When we are busy or under stress, feeling run down or just in need of a little extra, taking a well-chosen daily multi can help ensure we are getting a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function well. Just make sure you choose yours wisely.

This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 10 August 2019.