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This article was medically reviewed by Rachel Lustgarten, R.D., C.D.N., a clinical dietitian and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board on May 21, 2020.
Research shows that the average American diet just isn’t cutting it. Why? Many processed foods—which often lack nutrients but are rich in lab-made fats, added sugars, and salts—are king in the United States, says Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.
“The majority of Americans are not meeting the recommended daily intake for fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains,” says Feller. “Only 11% of Americans meet the USDA guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption. Couple that with 31% of Americans being at risk for a nutrient deficiency.”
Many women lack potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, D, E and C in their diets, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To fix this, you can eat more plant-based meals or switch out white rice for quinoa to get in those unprocessed grains. Even still, it’s easy to fall short without professional guidance—especially when nutrient needs change with each stage of life (e.g. pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, postpartum, post-menopause).
Feller counsels her clients on using a whole food strategy to cover their bases, however, she acknowledges that “supplementing with a daily multivitamin that provides a broad spectrum of the nutrients that are missing from the standard American diet can bridge these nutritional gaps.”
It might be seem easy to run down to the drugstore and pluck one off the shelf. But not all multivitamins are created equal. Vitamins are not regulated by the FDA, so it can be difficult to figure out which companies are providing a quality product. It’s also important to find a multivitamin that fits your specific needs.
For example, some multivitamins use folic acid, which is a synthetic version of folate—an important nutrient used for cell growth and metabolism. Not every person can absorb folic acid efficiently. “Those with a MTHFR gene mutation have trouble utilizing folic acid,” says prenatal and pediatric nutrition specialist Aubrey Phelps, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N.
As a general guideline, women should look for vitamins that are:
- Non-GMO, organic
- Made of raw materials
- Allergen- and gluten-free
- Free of heavy metals, chemicals, and coloring
- Have certifications from NSF International, the Dietary Supplement Verification Program, Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), or another reputable third party.
To get you started, Feller, Phelps, and women’s health specialist Roxanne Pero, M.D., recommend talking with your doctor about the following vitamins:
Ritual Women’s Multivitamin
Ritual’s “beadlet-in- oil” pill design looks like an aquarium for nutrients. Scroll through the website and you get the sense that taking these vitamins is rather trendy and fun—but Ritual is not playing around. The makers are serious about the quality of their product and very transparent about where and how they source their material.
The Essential for Women vitamin is 100% vegan and includes nine important ingredients: folate, omega-3, B12, D3, iron, K2, boron, and magnesium. The inclusion of omega-3s, which can help regulate inflammation and reduce blood clotting, is rare for a multi, says Dr. Pero., a gynecologist at Women’s Health Specialists of Dallas. Ritual also has 50+ and prenatal vitamins, all of which are offered on monthly subscription ($30-35/month).
Life Extension Two-Per-Day Multivitamin
Life Extension claims to include only nutrients and dosages proven by science to be effective. For example, this multivitamin contains four forms of tocopherol vitamin E, an antioxidant that can boost vision, brain, skin and reproductive health. “Evidence shows that combining alpha- and gamma-tocopherols is better than taking either nutrient alone,” says Feller. “This formula, based on the most recent science, provides more than 80 mg of mixed alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocopherols.” This multi also includes bioavailable quercitin, an antioxidant that can help fight damaging free radicals as well as reduce inflammation.
Thorne Basic Nutrients III Multivitamin
Thorne—a company that works with professional athletes—is all about making products that lead to optimal performance. Basic Nutrients III includes essential minerals like calcium and magnesium. Calcium is important for strong bones, while magnesium plays an important role in supporting muscle and nerve function, as well as energy production. This vitamin is free of copper, which can be harmful for people who have developed copper toxicity from disease, and iron.
The Vitamin Shoppe Ultimate Woman Gold Multivitamin
The Vitamin Shoppe claims all of its nutrients are “highly bioavailable,” a.k.a. the body can easily absorb them. Another highlight: This multi contains 250% of the daily value of vitamin D3 (50 mcg or 2,000 IU), good for people with bone weakness. “Vitamin D deficiency can lead to bone pain and tenderness, generalized body weakness, and increased risk of fracture,” says Dr. Pero. “Vitamin D deficiency is also being studied as a factor in immune, cardiovascular, and reproductive system health. So I like a vitamin D supplement to contain vitamin D3 specifically at a dosage of 1000-2000 IUs.”
Klaire Labs Prenatal & Nursing Formula
This vitamin is ideal for women who are pregnant, according to Phelps. It has 50 mcg of vitamin D, which is important for fetal growth and bone development, as well as 150 mg of choline, which will support fetal brain development and maternal liver function.
Saz Products Whole Food Multivitamin
You won’t find many multis with probiotics, which is why Saz’s vitamin is a standout for Dr. Pero. Probiotics and digestive enzymes not only help with general digestion, they also aid the absorption of the nutrients, which are sourced from raw foods. This multi is also vegan friendly—a great choice for the plant-based eater.
Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal Vitamin
This prenatal multi may be pricey, but it’s NSF certified and Phelps says it’s one of her top prenatals. It contains 250 mg of choline for healthy fetal development as well as vitamin B6 and ginger extracts which the company claims supports digestive comfort. One thing to note: It doesn’t contain iron. Seeking Health also offers a multivitamin that could benefit women who are preparing for pregnancy. “Their standard multi includes some bonuses, like inositol, that has shown some promise in regulating cycles, particularly with improving ovulation,” says Phelps.
Bio Naturals Whole Foods Multivitamin
This multivitamin is suitable for vegans and includes an immune-boosting herbal blend of echinacea, ginkgo biloba, milk thistle, Korean ginseng, cayenne, and goldenseal. As a bonus, BioNaturals included digestive enzymes and probiotics for digestive health and nutrient absorption. It also contains 500 mcg of vitamin B12—a deficiency of which can cause anemia, GI dysfunction, depression, and neurological symptoms such as dementia and forgetfulness, says Dr. Pero.
Metagenics PhytoMulti Capsules
Metagenics says PhytoMulti is chockfull of phytonutrients on top of all the essential vitamins and minerals. Phytonutrients are what make plants super colorful. While they are not considered essential in the human diet, they can aid in fighting free radicals, reducing inflammation, and boosting memory. You can get the PhytoMulti with iron or without depending on your needs.
Supplements Studio Whole Food Multivitamin Plus
This vegan multivitamin contains the essentials as well as a digestive enzyme/probiotic blend. They use raw, non-GMO, and gluten free ingredients to make their vitamins. What makes this brand unique is that they include turmeric, which is a natural anti-inflammatory. Whole Food Multivitamin Plus is certified by Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which means you get the exact quality and composition of nutrients it claims to have on the label.
Full Circle Prenatal Multivitamin
This brand was created by a registered dietician and mom who wanted a product that didn’t cut any corners. In it, you’ll find more vitamin D and choline, chelated minerals which provide superior absorption and extra glycine—all to help meet the demands of pregnancy. This product is especially great for the postpartum period, says Phelps. “In essence, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding take a lot out of a woman, period,” she says. “If she went into the pregnancy undernourished, she’s even further depleted postpartum. This prenatal was designed with those elevated needs in mind.”
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