Summary: Take a multivitamin daily to provide vitamins and trace minerals if at least 100% RDA is not included in the diet.The best choice for a multivitamin depends on the purpose and the individual. Despite generally lower potencies, whole food and green food multivitamins such as Nature's Way Alive! Multivitamin (also known as Whole Food Energizer) and Garden Of Life Living Multi appear to have the best empirical effects perhaps due to better absorption of the nutrients or by providing unclassified nutrients which are not found in regular multivitamins.
Taking a good multivitamin supplement is essential for many people to get the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of required vitamins, and especially for those who require therapeutic amounts far higher than the RDA. They can be especially useful for those with poor diets, and also good insurance for those who eat healthy.
When most people think of a multivitamin, they think of Centrum or other drugstore variety. Electroherbalism is of the opinion that since these types have suboptimal amounts of nutrients, lots of fillers, the worst absorbable forms of nutrients or worse, forms or elements that may be harmful or are "anti-nutrients", preventing usable forms of the nutrients from being absorbed, such as dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate, nickelous sulfate, sodium silicoaluminate, plus a wide variety of petrochemicals, dyes, and other toxic additives, they have the potential to do more harm than good.
For a person looking for just a single product to use to promote health, a plain one or two per day multivitamin is not the first choice for this supplement. More important for most people is using a mineral, not vitamin, supplement. See the Multimineral section for more information on mineral supplements. Magnesium is the most important nutrient in which most people are deficient, next is calcium, and most multivitamins only contain a small amount of these "major minerals." Some multivitamins do contain significant amounts of magnesium and/or calcium, all the way up to 100% RDA or more, and these are typically the 6 or more capsules per day serving size. Most of the time, multivitamins that include major minerals include more magnesium than calcium since it is so much more difficult to get 100% RDA of magnesium (400mg) in the diet.
Many people prefer to take major minerals separately. Multivitamins are energizing. Multiminerals are relaxing and due to the magnesium content, stimulate elimination. For this reason it may be preferable to use a multivitamin that has but small amounts of calcium and magnesium during the day, and a multimineral at night before bed. Or someone might want to provide all the vitamins and minerals in a single supplement, even if it means using 6 or more capsules per day. There are a variety of options discussed in this article all the way from a good two-per-day to the 14 capsule per day Life Extension Mix caps. Again, see the Multimineral section for more information on mineral supplements.
When buying a multivitamin, a useful measure is to look for 100% RDA (300mcg) or more of biotin. It is one of the nutrients which makes a difference in body appearance by stimulating hair and nail growth and improving skin, as well as helping control blood sugar levels. Even though it is measured in micrograms, many if not most companies skimp on it. Life Extension Mix contains 3000mcg (1000% RDA) in the full daily serving size, which is the highest level of any common multivitamin. NSI Multivitamins generally contain between 500 and 2000mcg. Most Enzymatic Therapy multivitamins contain 600mcg. All the multivitamins recommended below contain at least 300mcg of biotin per daily serving size except for one of Electroherbalism's most highly rated one - Garden of Life Multi. It contains 250mcg but in a highly absorbable form.
The next thing to look for in a multivitamin is selenium and chromium in the amount of 70 - 200mcg. 100% RDA is sometimes stated as 70, 100, or 200mcg.Selenium is an antioxidant which protects body tissues and chromium controls blood sugar levels and regulates the pancreas. Selenium and chromium are actually minerals, not vitamins, but trace minerals like these are usually included in multivitamins. They are also included in a few multiminerals, although multiminerals more commonly only contain the "major" minerals, calcium and magnesium and sometimes zinc.
When people take a multivitamin and it upsets their stomach, the usual culprit is zinc and sometimes iron. Many people cannot take more than 100% RDA (15 mg) zinc at one time without this problem. This is alleviated a good deal when taken with a meal, but if a multivitamin has ever upset your stomach, look for one that has a lower level of zinc per capsule. Zinc is, however, a valuable nutrient for many conditions including fighting many illnesses, and if more than 100% RDA can be taken, this is often desirable.
Critical nutrients for some disorders, like boron (bone disorders and arthritis) and vanadium (blood sugar and immune disorders), are included in some vegetables and fruits, but if not enough are eaten, look for a multivitamin (or a multimineral) that includes them. The major vitamins and minerals like A, B, C, E, zinc, etc, are usually more important for most people than these micronutrients, but they can be a useful measure for gauging the quality of a multivitamin.
The better multivitamins have their vitamins and minerals in highly absorbable forms, like amino acid chelates and citrates rather than sulfates, carbonates, and oxides although these less absorbable forms are still good for many purposes.
Unless there are special needs, only children and pre menopausal women should take supplements with a significant amount of iron. Many multivitamin come in iron-free formulas, or just limit it to a low amount such as 25 to 50% RDA.
When a multivitamin recommended below does not contain the mixed tocopherols form of vitamin E, it is recommended that a separate supplement be taken for this purpose. Using plain vitamin E without the complement of mixed tocopherols is not recommended since there may be some adverse effects. See the article on Mixed Tocopherols for more information. The best mixed tocopherol product for the money is probably Now's Advanced Gamma E Complex, which contains a large amount of gamma, delta, and beta tocopherols in addition to alpha tocopherol, plus tocotrienols. Or just eat a handful of raw walnuts per day to provide adequate mixed tocopherols as well as omega 3 oils.
Garden of Life Living Multi Optimal Formula contains nutrients bound to super green foods and fermented with probiotic microorganisms and their enzymes in what they call a homeostatic nutrient (HN) complex. As their type states, "HN Complex vitamins and minerals contain all the necessary cofactors required for proper absorption and utilization, including enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants, probiotics, prebiotics, and organic acids." Appears low potency compared to other good multivitamins, but the overall effects of Living Multi are generally greater than that of the most comprehensive many-capsule-per-day multivitamins. Includes fruit, vegetable, mushroom, and herb concentrates (equivalent to 200g (7oz) of fresh super foods). Contains 250mg calcium (25% RDA) and 150mg of magnesium (38% RDA) which is enough for most people in these highly absorbable forms when the additional nutrients of a decent diet are taken into account, but still may need a half serving of a multimineral in the evening to round it out. Rather large caplets, the full serving size is 9 per day. This is one of Electroherbalism's top-rated multivitamins.
Nature's Way Alive! Multivitamin is a people's choice top rated multivitamin. Probably the best economically priced whole food multivitamin and like all the good ones, provides energy better than most multivitamins that don't have whole foods or "green foods" The Alive! multivitamin formula appears to address the defects of the very popular Nature's Plus Source of Life multivtamin line by providing 100% RDA of biotin and a higher amount of whole foods and concentrates. Comes in tablets or capsules. Tablet form is usually a better deal and only 3 tablets are necessary for a full daily serving, but most people prefer capsules since they are easier to swallow.
Purity Products Perfect Multi. This is a 4 capsule per day multivitamin that pays attention to the best absorbed forms of nutrients. The Perfect Multi's main claim to fame is the very large number of herbs and herb extract adjuncts included in the formula, although most are in small amounts. Has 50% RDA of magnesium and a small amount of calcium (10%). Contains 100% RDA (300mcg) biotin. Better is Purity's Multi Super Greens formula, which is the same as the Perfect Multi but with the addition of 750mg of fruit and vegetable extracts, making it a 5 instead of 4 capsule per day multi.
Enzymatic Therapy Doctor's Choice Multivitamins. Specific formulas for men, women, seniors, pregnant women, teens, etc, they adjust the levels of vitamins and minerals and include herb extracts and other nutrients specific to the formula. Most contain 200% RDA (600mcg) biotin, 200mcg each chromium and selenium, and 25 to 75% RDA of calcium and magnesium. Rather large tablets, the daily serving size is 3 to 4 depending on the formula.
Life Extension Mix Caps. This is the original super-multi formula from the Life Extension Foundation, a leader in nutrition research and development. The Life Extension Mix contains large amounts of many vitamins, minerals, and amino acids plus herb, vegetable, and fruit extracts. Full daily serving size is 14 capsules. It comes in tablet form that requires less, but this is not recommended. Includes the largest amount of biotin of any widely available multivitamin at 3000mcg (1000% RDA). Has about 20% RDA of calcium and 80% RDA of magnesium, so a 2:1 ratio calcium magnesium supplement may still be required. Life Extension Mix is rather expensive at around $100 per month ($80 at discount) but for someone who wants a comprehensive all-around supplement or who has serious health issues caused by poor nutrition, this may be an ideal supplement. Life Extension Mix also comes in powder form, which is good for people who don't like swallowing capsules.
Now True Balance is an economical multivitamin and mostly noted for its large amount of biotin, it can be taken in double the recommended amount to make it a high potency multivitamin.
Children's Chewable Vitamins
Two nutrients typically lacking in children's multivitamins, mixed tocopherols and adequate selenium, can be had by eating nuts. A mix of raw almonds and walnuts will provide both omega 6 and 3 essential fatty acids plus mixed tocopherols. Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium and can be eaten raw or roasted - only one or two brazil nuts per day is necessary. Selenium is often limited in chewable vitamins since, like iron, it can be harmful if taken in very large amounts. Again, minerals are more important to most people, including children, so these should be secondary to a chewable multimineral supplement. See Multimineral section.
Twinlab Animal Friends Children's Chewable Vitamins are the only children's chewables which contain 100% RDA of biotin and are an excellent formula for children. Contains few macrominerals - 20mg magnesium and 100mg calcium - so does not stimulate elimination when taken during the day. Does contain selenium (and molybdenum) but the quantities of these are not rated.
Rainbow Light Nutri Stars Multivitamin and Multimineral - high rated except very low in selenium. Low in major minerals. Good amount of biotin for a children's chewable (150mcg per 2 tablets).
Now Kid Vits - high rated except no selenium. Low in major minerals. Highest amounts of biotin and folic acid of any chewable multivitamin. Contains lutein and lycopene.
Enzymatic Therapy Sea Buddies - high rated. Low in major minerals. High amounts of biotin and folic acid . Contains small amount of some berry extracts.
Nature's Plus Kid Greenz. Good complement to a multivitamin or by itself, Kid Greenz is a chewable super green food supplement. Better than any of the Nature's Plus chewable multivitamin formulations.
Child-Vites by Nature's Science. Decent formula. Low calcium, magnesium, and selenium. 100mcg biotin per 2 tablets, but has a good deal of folic acid.
Nature's Plus makes an adult chewable multivitamin as well as a children's chewable called Love Bites that have a decent amount of vitamin C, beta carotene, and some B vitamins, but have lower biotin, folate (folic acid), and many other nutrients than any other we have seen, including the bottom-of-the-barrel-standards, Centrum and One-A-Day, making them non-recommended formulations. An adult would do better using the children's Nutri Stars or NSI Pedia Power chewables recommended above. Many other chewable mulitvitamin formulas were investigated and found lacking including those by Schiff, Natural Factors, Flora, and others.