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Do I really need to take a daily multivitamin?

By Dusty Stevenson, R.D. on September 14 2018 | Nutrition & Recipes

Taking a multivitamin may seem like a convenient way to meet our basic micronutrient needs but shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for a healthy and balanced eating pattern. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals that are essential for healthy growth, development, and well-being. According to Harvard Health Publishing, consuming less than optimal amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other compounds through our diet contributes to a number of major illnesses, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis.  Interested in learning more about your daily micronutrient requirements and boosting your health? Try our four week micronutrient challenge!

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A multivitamin can be helpful for those unable to meet their needs or fill in the nutrient gaps in the diet but unlike whole foods, the effectiveness of a multivitamin to improve health or prevent chronic conditions have been found to be inconclusive. Multivitamins do tend to be well tolerated and the potential benefits appear to outweigh the risks in the general population. That said, consider the below.


Who can benefit from a supplement?

Multivitamin supplements have been found to be beneficial in specific population such as those with compromised nutritional intake or dietary restrictions and limitations, pregnant women, young children, and frail older adults. According to Health Canada, many Canadians continue to fall short on getting the even the minimum amounts of vitamins and minerals to maintain good health, specifically iron, vitamin B12, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, zinc, with the highest inadequacies  being vitamin A, vitamin D, magnesium and calcium. Taking a multivitamin that contains the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals can fill these nutritional gaps but this isn’t the ideal strategy for meeting these needs.


Foods first, supplements second

No supplement will make up for a diet that is made-up of refined and processed foods. It is nearly impossible for a multivitamin to contain all of the health promoting phytonutrients that a whole foods diet can offer that are associated with decreased risk of disease. Nutrient-dense, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are more than just isolated vitamins and minerals. They are complex and contain an array of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre that appear to work together to protect against chronic disease. However despite our best efforts to follow a healthy eating pattern, periodic nutrient gaps can arise and this is when supplementation can be helpful, not to replace healthy eating but to complement our dietary pattern and act as a safety net to meet our needs.


What to look for in a multivitamin

Look for a multivitamin with a full range of vitamins and minerals that meet the RDA for your age. Consult with your healthcare professional to see if taking a supplement may be of benefit to you. See the reverse side for details on what to look for and how a diverse range of foods can meet these needs.


Not all vitamins are created equal

Avoid unnecessary additions and fillers in your multivitamin including, sugar (sucrose, lactose, maltose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, levulose, honey, corn syrup, molasses, fruit juice concentrates), artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, hydrogentated oils, BHT, BHA, artificial colourings (ie. red dye no. 33 and 40, FD&C Yellow 5 or Yellow 5/tartrazine). If you have allergies but sure to carefully read labels since some supplements will contain wheat, eggs, dairy, gelatin etc.





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