While countless dietary supplements are available today, the classic multivitamin is still the most popular. And for good reason: A good multivitamin will fill nutritional gaps in your diet. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than one-third of all Americans take a multivitamin, and multivitamins account for more than 40% of all vitamin and mineral supplements sold.
But not all multivitamins are created equal. In fact, there’s no standard definition for what a multivitamin is. Manufacturers can choose which vitamins and minerals to include and at what dose, the NIH explains.
Choosing the one that’s right for you depends on several factors, including your age, gender, diet, and other lifestyle factors.
But there are some key vitamins and minerals that most people need. Here are seven ingredients you should make sure your multivitamin contains.
Vitamin B12 is one of eight B vitamins your body needs. Vitamin B12 supports your nervous system and is essential for red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and metabolism. While it’s possible to get all the B12 you need from food, there are several reasons you might not be getting enough. Digestive issues and a decrease in stomach acid as you age can impair your body’s ability to absorb B12. And since this vitamin is found primarily in animal products, vegetarians are at high risk of deficiency.
Although folate is found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes, many people don’t get enough through diet. According to Harvard Health, the type of folate found in supplements (including your multivitamin) is more easily absorbed than the type found in food. Many multivitamins contain the entire recommended daily amount of folate, 400 mcg for most adults and 600 mcg during pregnancy. It’s especially important for women who may become pregnant to get adequate folate, since it’s essential for proper fetal development in the first month of pregnancy.
When ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight hit your skin, it prompts cells to produce vitamin D. This nutrient is essential for maintaining calcium balance within your body and supporting bone health. But many people don’t get enough sun — particularly in fall and winter months — to produce adequate vitamin D. While a few foods, like salmon and fortified milk, are rich in vitamin D, many people need supplements to get the recommended 600 IU per day.
Getting enough iron ensures healthy red blood cells and proper oxygen transport from your lungs to the rest of your body. Most multivitamins contain 100% of your recommended daily iron intake (18 mg) as ferrous iron, the most easily absorbed type. The NIH states that iron deficiency is relatively common, so iron should be included in your multivitamin.
Adequate calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong bones and for keeping your heart, muscles, and nerves functioning properly. Adults need between 1,000 and 1,200 mg of calcium per day, depending on age and gender. But many people don’t get enough calcium, particularly those who avoid dairy. Even those who do consume enough may need to supplement because digestive issues — or a high intake of protein or salt — impedes their body’s ability to absorb the calcium they eat.
Magnesium plays a crucial role in supporting muscle and nerve function and helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. People who have magnesium deficiencies don’t usually have symptoms. But a prolonged deficiency can increase your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Adults need between 310 mg and 420 mg of magnesium per day. You don’t need any more than this, since you’ll also get magnesium in your diet, especially from foods like nuts, seeds, and legumes.
As well as being a key mineral in metabolism, zinc supports immunity, wound healing, and our sense of taste and smell. The recommended daily amount is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men. Since it’s hard to overdo it on zinc (the tolerable upper limit is 40 mg per day), it’s fine to get at least 100% of the U.S. RDA from your vitamin, even if you eat zinc-rich foods, such as meat and dairy products.