My approach to health is all about eating unprocessed, unrefined, real foods. This is truly the best way to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs. That being said, I understand multivitamins provide a convenient way to fill in the nutrient "gaps" found in your diet.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge consumers face with regard to multivitamins is deciding which one to take. If you have ever been to a health food store, I am sure you noticed the rows upon rows of shelves jam-packed with every vitamin under the sun. The sheer number of options available can make choosing stressful!
Hopefully, this post will give you the information you need to feel cool as a cucumber next time you find yourself in the vitamin section.
Natural vs. Synthetic
I firmly believe the most important thing to do when choosing a multivitamin is to determine where the ingredients come from. The answer to this question will tell you what the quality of the product actually is. You specifically want to know if the ingredients were sourced from whole foods or if they were created synthetically. Synthetic ingredients are manufactured in laboratories while the latter come from real whole foods.
One of the easiest ways to show you the difference between synthetic and whole food-based vitamins is using vitamin C as an example. Vitamin C is actually a complex of many different types of C vitamins. In other words, it is not just one vitamin. Generally, you will see vitamin C listed as ascorbic acid. While ascorbic acid is a C vitamin, it is only one element of the vitamin C complex. Taking just one C vitamin would be like drinking half-and-half and calling it coffee! Half-and-half is just a component of the whole, right? The same idea applies to the vitamins you take.
One way you can avoid synthetic ingredients is by choosing a whole food-based multivitamin. Let's use vitamin C again as an example to show you the difference.
When you look at vitamin C on the label of a whole food-based multivitamin, you will see something along the lines of vitamin C complex from acerola cherries or citrus fruits. Both types of fruit contain high levels of vitamin C. This is important because when we eat vitamin C in its natural form, we get the ascorbic acid along with all the other C vitamins in the complex.
[Read: The Myth of Healthy Processed Food.]
Vitamins work together synergistically in their natural state but not when they are synthetically isolated. This is an important distinction because it directly affects their ability to be absorbed and used in the body. This is the biggest reason you should choose a whole food-based multivitamin over a synthetic one.
Make Sure The Label Has This?
Sometimes the labeling on supplements can be a little tricky to understand, and often, they can be misleading. Almost every one of them claims to be "the best" and some synthetic multivitamins even have pictures of fruits and vegetables on them.
If you are in doubt, search the bottle or packaging for a statement that says: whole food multivitamin or all ingredients derived from whole foods. If you want to take it a step further, look for a whole food-based multivitamin that is derived from organic fruits and vegetables. If the label says the fruits and veggies are also raw, that's even better.
[Read: Is Organic Food Better?]
Another thing you can look at is the number of ingredients the multivitamin contains. This is the one and only time you'll hear me say the more ingredients listed, the better. Generally, synthetic multivitamins have a short list of ingredients while whole food-based multivitamins have a long list.
-- Whole food-based multivitamins are much better for your body than synthetic multivitamins.
-- When choosing a whole food-based multivitamin, look for a statement that says something similar to: whole food multivitamin or all ingredients derived from whole foods.
-- If you can, get an organic, whole food-based multivitamin. If it is also raw, even better.
-- The list of ingredients in your multivitamin should be long, not short.
- If all else fails, just remember that if you see ascorbic acid on the label, it is definitely synthetic.
What Do All the Numbers Mean?
Another question I am often asked is "What do all the percentages and numbers on my multivitamin mean?" The main numbers you should be concerned with are: Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), Adequate Intake (AI) and Tolerable Upper Limit (UL). These values are collectively known as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) and have been established by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
-- An RDA is the average daily dietary intake sufficient enough to meet the nutrient requirement for most healthy individuals.
-- An AI is an approximation used when there is not sufficient data available to determine an RDA.
-- A UL is the highest level most healthy individuals can take without the risk of adverse effects. In general, you should not exceed the upper limit unless you are under a doctor's supervision.
Hopefully, this information will provide you with the clarity you need to select the best multivitamin your money can buy.
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Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN is a registered holistic nutritionist, fitness expert and highly sought-after high-performance health coach. He's also a former professional soccer player and served as the head strength and conditioning and nutrition coach for men's soccer at the University of Toronto for seven seasons. For more than 13 years, he's empowered more than 86,000 people to greater health with his no-nonsense approach to health, fitness, and nutrition. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. Get Yuri's free "Y-Factor" at www.yurielkaim.com.