If you grew up in America in the past forty or so years you may have fond memories of gummy vitamins shaped like your favorite cartoon characters. Taking a daily multi-vitamin is a common practice here in the United States starting from a young age and lasting practically our entire lives. There are multi-vitamins for men and for women, prenatal vitamins for those child-bearing years, adult formulas, multi-vitamins marketed to active individuals, and even blends specific to seniors. Multi-vitamins may be water-soluble, plant based, vegan, food-derived or synthetic… the choices are practically endless. If you have found yourself scratching your head in the vitamin aisle at the supermarket, you are not alone. Below we will shed some light on a few common questions that surround the perplexing multi-vitamin world in an effort to bring a bit more clarity for when its time to take your vitamins.
What vitamins do I need?
According to sources, there are 13 different vitamins that are essential to our health (and luckily, if you know the first portion of the alphabet, it makes it pretty easy to remember what they are):
- Vitamin A
- B Vitamins (this is actually a group of vitamins that includes thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
If I eat a healthy diet, do I still need a daily multi-vitamin?
Current National Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020) recommends that we should try to meet our nutritional requirements through the foods we eat. In an ideal world, yes, we would all be eating incredibly healthy and vitamin rich foods regularly. However, the drive-thru lunch you ate in your car in between meetings last week most likely did not fall in to the category of “vitamin-rich.” Although this example may be hypothetical, many Americans choose to supplement their diets with a multi-vitamin for similar reasons. Adding a multi-vitamin supplement to your wellness routine is a personal decision that should be discussed with your healthcare provider.
When it comes to amounts of vitamins, how do I know how much I need in day?
This can be a tricky one. Is the number on the label of the vitamin how much I should be getting, or is it the amount that is included the vitamin? What is this percentage all about? Is this the amount per serving or the amount for my whole day…? If this sounds familiar, don’t panic. Fortunately, with just a little help, you do not need to be a mathematician or a dietitian to figure this out.
Two values are commonly used to discuss amounts of nutrients. The first is your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Sources define RDA as “recommended daily intakes of a nutrient for healthy people.” Basically, how much of a specific nutrient you should be getting in a day. These allowances are defined by the Food and Drug Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The recommendations vary based on factors such as age and gender. For example, the number will be different for a nutrient recommended for a 35-year-old woman versus a 75-year-old man.
The second value is Daily Value (DV). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration establishes this number. It is used in labeling your multi-vitamin supplements. Unlike RDA’s, DV’s do not vary based on gender or age. DV’s are set for all people four years of age and older. DV’s are a percentage that refers to the amount of nutrient per serving that is provided by the supplement in relation to daily totals for your diet.
The world of multi-vitamin supplements can be daunting. However, through research and guidance from a medical professional, you can make educated decisions for your overall health.