Updated: January 2021
A few years ago, a private client of mine gave me the opportunity to look more closely at the best multivitamins.
She wanted to know if she should be taking a multivitamin, and if she should be giving one to her children. Of course, she also wanted to know which brands make the best multivitamins.
I shared my opinion with the Gimme readership back then, and now am pleased to be able to update you guys. What follows is even more research on multivitamins, plus a few supplements I do recommend, as well as suggestions for the best multivitamins if you decide to take one.
RELATED: Best Prenatal Vitamins
Should You or Your Kids Take a Multivitamin?
The best way to hit all nutritional checkpoints is by eating a diverse range of vibrantly-colored fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. This is hard to accomplish for a picky child, of course. Many nutrients are lost during the processing of the food most Americans eat.
For adults, there is no harm in taking a multivitamin, although it’s unclear if there is a huge benefit, either. In general, I recommend against giving a multivitamin to young children, but I think they cannot hurt for kids about six and older. You’ll read more about this below.
The Case for (and Against) Multivitamins
Science clearly shows that vitamins and minerals are important to overall health. Studies have also shown that the best way to get most nutrients is from our food.
There is some evidence to suggest that the quality of modern soil and agricultural practices are insufficient to produce food as rich in nutrients as the stuff that our ancient ancestors enjoyed. This makes sense.
Still, most researchers argue that isolating vitamins into pill form vastly reduces or even eliminates the benefits.
The theory that multivitamins and supplements can “fill gaps” in our dietary intake of vitamins and minerals also makes sense. And yet most studies have been unable to find any actual health benefits when compared to placebo or non-use.
Despite this lack of clear benefit, many doctors recommend the use of a daily multivitamin, and I don’t think there is much harm in “covering your bases” by taking one.
I haven’t come across strong evidence that taking vitamins has any major downsides for adults, but there are a few worrisome studies I’ve found that don’t apply to most people, but are still worth mentioning:
- Smokers who take beta carotene have increased risks of lung cancer.
- Folic acid may increase prostate cancer risk.
- Adults who take large doses of B vitamins for many years may have increased incidence of hip fracture.
Overdosing on Vitamins
Excessive doses of vitamin C have also been shown to increase the risk of kidney stones. Most of us get plenty of vitamin C in our diets, so it’s not one that you need much of in a supplement.
What are the Best Multivitamins for Adults?
If you are trying to get nutrients from a pill, it makes sense to get a food-based pill. The less we try to break down vitamins/minerals to the sum of their parts, the more bio-available all the nutrients will be.
There are two brands I like if you choose to take a multivitamin–or if your doctor recommends one.
Ritual’s multivitamin contains half of the number of ingredients of most multivitamins, so you’re not getting unnecessary or excessive amounts of nutrients. For instance, this multi doesn’t include calcium, because most women get plenty from their diets and it can impede the absorption of iron. Ritual’s multi uses folate rather than synthetic folic acid, and it contains omega-3 oil (a vegan form) in the same pill with the other nutrients This brand is one of the most transparent of those we reviewed, and has the best third-party testing. Finally, Ritual’s multivitamin has an enteric coating to improve absorption of nutrients. You can shop Ritual here.
If you, like me, have a hard time swallowing pills, then these gummies will make taking vitamins something you actually look forward to . Despite not even being convinced that I need a multivitamin at all, I take these every day after lunch when a sugar craving hits (I also take their vitamin D and probiotic). I like this brand because their gummies don’t contain any sugar (they’re sweetened with organic apples and strawberries) are organic, and contain no synthetic vitamins.
Should Kids Take a Multivitamin?
Considering how many kids take multivitamins, I was surprised to uncover almost no research on the benefits and risks of this daily habit.
Each brand of multivitamins contains a different cocktail of vitamins, and the quantities of each vitamin varies by brand as well. When studies are done on “multivitamins,” they don’t seem to take these differences into consideration. Therefore, we really don’t know which combinations of vitamins and minerals carry which benefits or even which potential risks.
Here are a few red flags I uncovered:
- An association between multivitamins before the age of 6 months and increased risk of asthma among black children.
- The same study showed increased levels of food allergies among formula-fed infants who were given multivitamins before the age of 6 months, and increased levels of food allergies amongst 3-year-olds exposed to multivitamins (whether they had been breast- or formula-fed).
- Another study found that the nutrients most lacking from the diets of children ages 2 to 8–-namely, calcium and vitamin D–-remained lacking despite multivitamin use. Researchers attribute this to the fact that children’s multis are heavy in the “wrong” nutrients–B vitamins and vitamin C, for instance, both of which kids get from food. Moreover, multivitamin use led to excessive levels of certain nutrients, like iron, zinc, and copper in this study. The effects of this are unknown.
What Are the Best Multivitamins for Kids?
Overall, I think the potential for a downside outweighs the potential benefit of multivitamins for kids under about the age of about six. Of course, I defer to your pediatrician–if he or she recommends that your child take a multi, or if your child has a very restricted diet, there are a few brands that qualify as Good Stuff that you can consider.
And for older children, a high-quality multivitamin might be beneficial and probably isn’t harmful. Based on our research, the best multivitamins for kids are the following:
This is a unique gummy brand because it has no added sugar–the vitamins are sweetened with just fruit. It has a good range of naturally-derived vitamins, including 100% the daily requirement of vitamin D.
Sweetened with monk fruit, Rituals chewable vitamins also contain fiber, a prebiotic, and omega-3 oils. Ritual has separate (non-chewable) formulas for teenage girls and boys, both of which adhere to Ritual’s strict ingredients sourcing policy.
Hiya is the most eco-friendly brand because they come in a reusable glass bottle and then send you monthly refill packs. The ingredients list is very clean, and Hiya’s chewable vitamins aren’t a gummy at all, so they are a great option for kids who are prone to tooth decay.
Two Pills You & Your Kids Probably Should Be Taking
My research left me somewhat torn about the necessity of multivitamins, but I did come away convinced that we all should be taking a couple of supplements:
- Vitamin D. Higher levels of vitamin D are protective against a variety of diseases. Vitamin D also enables calcium absorption, making it critical for growing children. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get sufficient vitamin D from diet alone (which is why I recommend time outside without sunscreen). Supplementing 400 IU a day for babies and children and 4,000 for adults makes sense, especially because vitamin D carries a low risk for toxicity. Note that you want to look for D3 if you are a vegan.
- Omega-3s. These fatty acids are crucial for good brain and heart function, and are found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, breastmilk, and some nuts and seeds. If you and your kids eat fish regularly (even relatively small amounts), you are probably covered. If not, you may want to consider a DHA supplement.
Nordic Naturals Baby’s DHA is a good one, as are the Nordic Naturals supplements for adults. (Note that the orange-flavored “Fishies” by Nordic Naturals have low levels of omega-3s and are basically candy.) Ritual’s kids multivitamin also contains omega oils and is Good Stuff approved.
Another supplement that you might consider is one with B12 if you are a vegan. This one has 75% of what you need in a day.
Finally, probiotics are good for all of us, and while they are beyond the scope of this post, you can read more about them here.
What supplements and vitamins do you like? Please share in the comments below.
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