A multivitamin is a supplement that contains several vitamins and minerals, often in amounts higher than can be found in foods.
Multivitamins may also include other ingredients such as herbs, antioxidants and amino acids.
Some multivitamins contain just one or two “nutrients of concern” that you may need extra of, such as vitamin D or calcium. Others contain an entire list of nutrients you might be lacking from your diet.
There are many different types of multivitamins available, ranging from cheap to expensive, from basic to extra-strength. Here’s what you should look for when choosing a multivitamin:
- Vitamin D: If you don’t get enough sun exposure or eat many fortified foods, such as milk and cereal, consider taking a vitamin D supplement unless your doctor recommends against it (for example, if you have kidney disease). Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to several chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer.
- Calcium: Calcium is another nutrient that many people are deficient in because they don’t consume enough dairy products or leafy greens (which contain calcium) or take in too much sodium (which can leach calcium away from bones). Calcium deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis and other diseases.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect against cell damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are produced when your body breaks down food sources like carbohydrates and proteins. They can cause damage to cells in your body, leading to premature aging and even cancer. Vitamin C also supports the immune system by helping white blood cells fight off infections.
- Iron: Iron is necessary for producing hemoglobin — the substance found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body so it can perform its many functions. Low iron levels can lead to anemia (low red blood cell count), which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath or dizziness when exercising.