Kind of. “You really cannot supplement your way out of an unhealthy diet,” says Robin Foroutan, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you’re eating a diet that includes grains, lots of leafy vegetables, a wide variety of brightly colored fruit, and lean meats, you probably don’t need to take a multivitamin at all.
But Foroutan says she sometimes advises her clients to take one, especially if their diets lack important nutrients. If your meals are more Guy Fieri than Jamie Oliver, try MegaFood Women’s One Daily or MegaFood Multi for Men. MegaFood gets high marks from third-party certifiers, offers remarkable transparency in an industry not known for it (you can literally watch a live stream of its New Hampshire facilities), and limits its inactive filler ingredients to three — by far the lowest we’ve seen. Most notably, both formulas are derived entirely from real food sources, which is a big plus for some. The one downside? They’re expensive.
Our budget pick, Costco’s synthetic Kirkland Signature Daily Multi, also received high marks from third parties and is much cheaper — only 2 cents per serving. The biggest difference: its nutrients are derived entirely from synthetic sources. Science hasn’t proven synthetics to be better or worse than their natural counterparts, so if you don’t feel strongly one way or the other, we think Kirkland Signature is a great way to go. (It also includes calcium and potassium, which MegaFood lacks.)
For kids, our favorite was Rainbow Light Kid’s One MultiStars. Each crunchy, star-shaped tablet contains the same essential nutrients we looked for in our adult picks, at child-friendly doses. This supplement is food-based, and free of the fillers and artificial dyes we saw in many other kids’ formulas. The brand came highly recommended by our experts and is intended for children of all ages.
Older adults have slightly different dietary requirements, often needing higher levels of vitamins like B12 and D. For this category, we suggest Kirkland Signature Adults 50+ Mature Multi — a synthetic formula that hit our nutritional benchmarks for older adults and is quite affordable at just $0.03 per dose.
All that said, the amounts of nutrients included in all our top picks vary — as will the amounts you need to be your healthiest. It’s important to consult with your doctor to determine if you have any vitamin deficiencies (usually via blood test) and what amounts you might require to get back up to speed. If it’s a severe deficiency, your doctor will likely recommend or prescribe a supplement for whichever specific nutrients you lack. Only mild deficiencies can be ameliorated by a multivitamin.
The Best Multivitamins
MegaFood Women’s One Daily
Best for Women
MegaFood Multi for Men
Best for Men
Kirkland Signature Daily Multi
Rainbow Light Kids One MultiStars Food-Based Multivitamin
Best for Kids
Kirkland Signature™ Adults 50+ Mature Multi
Best for Seniors
How We Found the Best Multivitamin
We started out with enough options to fill an entire aisle at your friendly neighborhood supplement store: 289 varieties of tablets, capsules, gummies, chewables, and liquids. Our goal was to find which ones were the safest and most effective to take.
Immediately, we ditched anything with a “proprietary blend.”
If you’re consuming a tablet or capsule every day, you better know exactly what’s in it, and how much. Unlike pharmaceuticals, supplements aren’t submitted for FDA testing and approval before they go to market. The FDA does require that manufacturers disclose all supplement ingredients and detail the amounts per serving — unless it’s classified as a “proprietary blend.” In that case, the manufacturer doesn’t have to disclose anything besides a list of ingredients and the total amount in the bottle.
This kind of disclosure loophole originated to protect businesses with unique products from being copied by competitors, but it’s also a convenient way for manufacturers to skimp on amounts or use inferior ingredients. Worse, buyers could end up consuming a product with too much of one ingredient — even an herbal add-in — which can pose health hazards. (For example, seemingly harmless herbs such as licorice and ginseng have been tied to high blood pressure.)
Contenders cut: 154
Contenders cut: 154
Then, we cut products that didn’t have credible third-party verification.
Without FDA oversight, the supplement industry is a bit like the Wild West of the wellness world. Journalist Catherine Price researched the supplement industry while writing her book Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food, and she told us if there’s one thing consumers should know, it’s this:
Dietary supplements are not tested for safety or for effectiveness before being sold. The motto of the industry should be caveat emptor: buyer beware.
So we sought out a few sheriffs to establish some accountability. There are a handful of labs that test supplements to evaluate whether they actually contain what the label promises, and we cut all multivitamins that weren’t approved by or compliant with at least one of the following:
- NSF International
- United States Pharmacopeia (USP)
- Labdoor (We looked for at least a 60 out 100 score, which represents a minimum blanace of label accuracy, product purity, and nutritional value. Find out more about Labdoor’s grading system.)
NSF and USP (both nonprofit organizations) test supplements at the request of manufacturers, then lend stamps of approval to verified products’ packaging. Labdoor and ConsumerLab, both for-profit companies, seek out products to test without consent from manufacturers. (Manufacturers can request tests from ConsumerLab as well.)
We also looked for products that were in compliance with the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) system of in-house testing. This international non-governmental organization lays out a rigorous system of testing for quality management for any product; MegaFood, the manufacturer of our top picks, is in compliance with that system. It’s not an independent certification, but it usually demonstrates that a company cares about quality assurance and wants the public to know.
Then we drilled down on inactive ingredients.
“Inactive ingredients” is a blanket term for everything included in the pill that isn’t adding nutritional value. Typically, a short list of inactive ingredients is a good sign of quality — our top picks from MegaFood have just three.
We looked for formulas that limited their use of artificial sweeteners, including sucralose, dextrose, maltodextrin, xylitol, glucose syrup, aspartame, and high fructose corn syrup.
In that same spirit, we wanted to avoid partially hydrogenated oils and artificial colorants as much as possible. We also kept an eye out for fillers and binders that are probably safe in small doses — but why consume them if there are better options? Those included titanium dioxide, carmine, butylated hydroxytoluene, benzoic acid, PEG 3350, talc, and magnesium silicate.
And examined labels for a good blend of nutrients.
When it comes to nutrition, “the most important thing is eating a balanced diet with nutrient-rich foods, and then supplementing to fill missing gaps,” said Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Plant-Powered for Life. “If your diet is pretty good, it might not really be necessary — maybe supplement a few times a week if you’re really concerned about shortfalls.”
To figure out what those shortfalls could be, we turned to the FDA’s dietary guidelines. Out of the 27 nutrients the body needs, the FDA states that American adults are most likely to be at risk of not consuming enough calcium, potassium, or magnesium — as well as vitamins A, C, and E.
It was a solid wish list, but very few multivitamins contain significant amounts of everything. “Multis don’t typically contain 100 percent of what you need, as the pill would just be too large,” Palmer told us — and in fact, we even had trouble finding a good option that included all those key “at-risk” nutrients, particularly potassium and calcium.
It’s understandable: there’s no way one supplement could magically cover all the bases for all people. So to make our top picks, we analyzed our remaining list of 33 multivitamins, looking for the ones that featured the fewest inactive ingredients, the best third-party certifications, and the most well-rounded roster of nutrients.
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