Dear Lifehacker, I want to eat a healthy, balanced diet, but does that actually include a multivitamin? If I eat well, shouldn't I get the nutrients I need by default? I assume a multivitamin won't hurt me, but I don't want to bother if it isn't necessary. So should I take a daily multivitamin or not? Thanks, Vexed By Vitamins
Title image from The Matrix. Other photos by me.
We all want a simple diet, but unfortunately those two concepts rarely match up. Although multivitamins can provide health benefits, they can cause problems as well. Ultimately you should speak with your doctor or a registered dietician about any significant health choices you make. We spoke to Doctor Carly Stewart, medical expert at Money Crashers, to get some general advice.
The Pros And Cons Of Multivitamins
According to Dr Stewart, multivitamins offer a number of health benefits:
Multivitamins give people sufficient amounts of both vitamins and minerals that their current diet may not be providing. They can improve many bodily functions and assist with mental health. They can also help decrease stress.
That said, taking them can make us a little less diligent:
Taking multivitamins can cause people to pay less attention to their diets. Every effort should be made to get as many vitamins and minerals out of actual foods as possible.
Dr Stewart notes that multivitamins cause the largest problem when they provide too much of something we don't need:
One of the biggest risks of taking multivitamins is that you may be ingesting too much of a particular vitamin, depending upon what your diet consists of. Some vitamins, if taken at a high level, will simply pass through the body without any negative effects. But both Vitamins A and D, which are fat soluble, build up in the body's tissue if too much is taken. Taking too much Vitamin A can increase the risk of osteoporosis, and taking too much Vitamin D can damage both the kidneys and blood vessels.
Again, we recommend discussing any important health choice with your doctor. You want to avoid taking vitamins you don't need and causing severe issues. It's also important to monitor and understand what you eat so you know when you're ingesting too much of a particular vitamin. Keep yourself informed and you'll stay safe.
How To Choose A Multivitamin
If you choose to take a multivitamin, how do you pick the right one? Dr Stewart offers a few guidelines:
Consumers should stay away from multivitamins that contain more than 100 per cent of any daily recommended dosages, as that can cause vitamin toxicity. Most multivitamins are geared towards either men, women, or even the elderly. Consumers should choose a multivitamin based on their age and sex. For those who have difficulty swallowing large pills, gel-coated capsules and liquid vitamins are also available.
You'll want to consider your specific situation when choosing a vitamin as well. For example, prenatal vitamins exist for pregnant women to provide additional nutrients they may need during their pregnancy. Dr Stewart explains:
The type of multivitamin does matter, depending upon your personal situation. Women who are or looking to become pregnant should take a multivitamin high in folic acid and iron, which can help prevent birth defects. Women in general should consider a multivitamin with Vitamin D and calcium, which can stave off osteoporosis. Most seniors need a multivitamin with higher levels of Vitamin D, which improves bone strength.
There's no real substitute for a varied, healthy diet, but if that's hard to achieve, multivitamins may help. Pick what suits you best based on your doctor's recommendations and it'll help provide what you're missing.
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