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Multivitamins: are they necessary and do you need one?

Should you be taking a multivitamin?

Before you can answer this question, you need to first take a look at your diet and any health conditions you are currently experiencing.  

  1. Are you eating a well-rounded diet? Have you cut out any food groups?

It is important to first get your vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat. You will get more nutrition from the diversity of the foods and more fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that you cannot get from supplementation. These elements of whole foods prevent diseases and improve bowel movements. However, no one person’s diet is perfect. Many people cut out certain food groups, such as dairy, for health reasons.  If this is true for you, a multivitamin may be beneficial to fill in the gaps. 

  1. Do you have a health condition that may cause you to not be able to absorb certain nutrients, or cause you to need more of a certain nutrient?

Many digestive complications such as Crohn’s disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease can lead to malabsorption of certain nutrients. Over a period of time, nutrient deficiencies can develop and cause various symptoms. Talking to a dietitian and your doctor about your disease and possible nutrient deficiencies that may result can help you decide which vitamins you should be focusing on.  Getting your vitamin and mineral levels checked can reveal if you need more than what a multivitamin can offer. If this is the case, you may be recommended to take individual supplements that have higher doses for what you need. In some situations, like being pregnant, you may need more of certain nutrients such as folic acid and iron. Pregnant women should take a prenatal vitamin.

You can never go wrong with talking to your dietitian and doctor about taking a multivitamin or a specific vitamin/mineral supplement. Explain your current diet and any health conditions you are experiencing. Above all, focusing on eating more foods in their whole and natural forms will always benefit you. You cannot overdose on nutrients when eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, and grains. However, you can reach a toxicity level from popping a higher dose of vitamins/minerals than you need. 

Above all, if you are eating a balanced diet and are not experiencing any health conditions that require you to need more of certain nutrients, you may be better off saving your money and continuing to focus on your diet!

–Tara Greenwood Penn State University Dietetics Student