When it comes to multivitamins there are so many conflicting opinions on how often you should take them and if they are genuinely worth their salt. Some wonder if they work or are just a placebo, and others even ask if they actually cause more harm than good. I wanted to do some real research to get to the bottom of this mystery.
We often take multivitamins to fill in the nutritional gaps where our diet may fall short, and some people are even advised to take particular supplements due to deficiencies caused by medical conditions. In an ideal world we would be eating meals everyday that contain the optimal nutritional profile of micro and macronutrients. Whilst this is the aim and it is important to eat like this as often as you can, life does unfortunately get in the way and it is not always possible to eat the perfect diet. On those days where it’s difficult to eat as healthy as you’d like – does a multivitamin do the trick?
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. If you’d like to make any lifestyle or diet changes, please talk to your doctor first.
It’s important to remember that it’s a common myth that vegans should place more emphasis on vitamin intake than omnivores – the reality is that most people struggle to reach their daily nutritional needs. Check out our FAQ on the Learn page. Every person, no matter what they’re eating, should be planning their diet carefully.
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates
In the 2008 documentary, Food Matters, empirical evidence is used to explain how crucial it is to prioritise our vitamin intake, and it revealed that a lot of deaths and chronic illnesses could be avoided if we paid more attention to vitamins and less attention to fixing our problems with pharmaceuticals. The medical experts in Food Matters state the importance of eating a wide array of fruits, vegetables, seeds & nuts in order to get the nutrients we need, and they advocate for busting the idea that a ‘magic pill’ can undo all our bad habits.
Multivitamins have no impact on cardiovascular diseases
This article from the NHS references findings from existing research over the course of 5 years, that looked at the correlation between multivitamin intake and cardiovascular disease and death. You could argue that this only examines one aspect of health, however cardiovascular disease is one of the major killers the world over, so definitely a good focal point for the study. They found that overall there weren’t any positives when it came to multivitamin supplementation and cardiovascular disease, except that folic acid intake may have some benefits for reducing stroke, and the good news is folic acid is easily found in foods such as cruciferous vegetables, chickpeas and lentils, to name a few. This article and many others reference a variety of studies that conclude vitamins don’t add much unless you’ve specifically had them prescribed by a medical professional for a deficiency that cannot be avoided. For example people in countries affected by reduced sunshine in winter should take vitamin D, women expecting a baby should take folic acid and children should be supplemented with vitamins A, C and D from the ages of 6 months to 5 years.
So multivitamins aren’t quite all they’ve cracked up to be in terms of efficacy for everyone, but do they have proactively negative effects? Very Well Fit published an article discussing the potentially harmful nutrients that can be found in multivitamins. Just like everything in life, you can actually have too much of a vitamin or a mineral. The general gist of the article is that you must eat a balanced diet if you wish to be healthy – if you are doing this already, then consuming a supplement as well could lead you to overdose on vitamins and minerals. For example, too much Selenium has been linked to diabetes and elevated cholesterol, so instead of supplementing, just eat one brazil nut a day to ensure you get your daily recommended amount of Selenium from a natural source.
Pairing of vitamins & minerals during consumption matters too
What about how well our bodies absorb nutrients? Well we can actually help our body to absorb the good stuff by pairing certain foods. This NBC News article was written by Amy Gorin, a registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has broken down all the best food combinations to maximise nutrient absorption. One of the best pairings is vitamin C and iron, and to achieve this you could add lemon or orange to a leafy salad or add tomato to a lentil dish. Another strong duo is vitamin D and calcium, as when consumed together they help keep your bones healthy. To reap the benefits of this pairing, eat mushrooms with leafy vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. For more great combinations, I recommend giving the article a read as it’s got a tonne of great advice. We’ll be creating some recipes based on nutritional food pairings to make it easier than ever to reach your daily goals, so watch this space!
It’s clear that it’s best to enjoy a varied diet of whole plant foods. However, there are certain vitamins that it could be necessary to supplement as it’s not always possible to hit our daily nutritional requirements. We should all be supplementing vitamin B12 and vitamin D, especially if you live in a country with low levels of sunlight at any point during the year. By eating a lot of plant foods you can reach the recommended daily amount of folic acid very easily. Foods such as pumpkin seeds, flax seed, nutritional yeast, seaweed and brazil nuts are fantastic sources of some of the nutrients that vegans could be lower in if they are not planning their diets properly.
So if we are to take vitamins to supplement occasional nutritional gaps in our diet, which type or brand is best? Is a box of vitamins from Poundland as good as one from a specialised nutritional company? From looking into this, it seems that paying more for multivitamins doesn’t mean they’re superior. It’s important to ensure that you read labels well and look out for any “filler” ingredients that are used to bulk up the product. We have our own guide on how to properly read supplement labels in the works, but for now, check out this handy guide from Healthline.
Based on the research, my advice to anyone whether they’re vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, is to eat a balanced diet and to only aim to take vitamin B12 and D as well as anything prescribed by your doctor for a medical deficiency.
I hope you’ve found this to be helpful – let me know your thoughts in the comments.