You’ve heard of the term macronutrients. These are the nutrients that we eat in large quantities (grams). These are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The term micronutrients aren’t as familiar; however they are opposite of macros. This means we need them but in much smaller quantities (milligrams and micrograms). The micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. These are smaller quantities; however, they are critical at orchestrating numerous metabolic processes.
What is the difference between vitamins and minerals?
These are often lumped together, however they are very different. Vitamins have a variety of varying jobs such as energy production, supporting immunity, and keep your nerves healthy. There are 13 different vitamins and we need them in varying amounts.
Minerals are the nutrients needed to help the body function normally, such as making enzymes and hormones. There are about fifteen minerals that are vital to keeping your body healthy.
|Vitamins||Energy production, supporting immunity, keeping nerves healthy||13 different vitamins|
|Minerals||Make enzymes and hormones||15 different minerals|
Being suboptimal or deficient in micronutrients can cause many issues. Some common challenges include generalized malaise or fatigue, brain fog, blood sugar imbalance, thyroid disruption, and even digestive issues due to lack of digestive enzymes.
Together these are critical to help the body function optimally. Note there is a difference between functioning, and functioning at your absolute best. Imagine trying to bake chocolate chip cookies with only ¼ of the recommended chocolate chips. Can you do it? Yes. Will they be their best? No.
How can we get vitamins and minerals?
As a dietitian you know I will say the best way to get vitamins and minerals are through a healthy, nutrient-dense diet. This means making sure you are getting adequate fruits and vegetables (9 servings/day), nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean meats. Studies show that few of us are doing this consistently. Research from the CDC show that only 1 in 10 Americans are eating enough fruits and vegetables. 1 in 10! How nutrient dense is your diet?
If your diet is not nutrient dense your next best option to getting adequate micronutrients is through a multivitamin supplement. I like to think of a multivitamin supplement as being nutritional in-case-ance. AKA insurance, just in case you are not getting enough nutrients through diet.
Are all multivitamins the same?
Multivitamin supplements are not all created equal. When evaluated by Consumer Labs, an independent lab to evaluate the best quality health and nutritional products, 44% of multivitamins were misrepresented on their label. Some issues with multivitamin supplements include:
- They may provide lower nutrients than their label claims
- Some supplements provider higher nutrients than claimed, which can lead to toxicity
- Some take too long to break down in the body (longer than 30 minutes as recommended by the United States Pharmacopeia)
- Supplements may also contain heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium
- Often they will have binders which are not nutritionally beneficial and can cause adverse reactions
- Many inexpensive products will provide nutrients that are not in the most absorbable form
There are many challenges when it comes to multivitamin supplements. There is no standard formula, ingredients vary, and they are not regulated consistently.
How do you choose a good multivitamin supplement?
Choosing a good multivitamin supplement certainly does present its challenges. There are two things to look for. The first, multivitamins should adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). This is a system that ensures a product is consistently produced using quality control standards, which will be labeled on the bottle somewhere near the nutrition facts or ingredient list. The second is the supplement should have independent testing, meaning a company outside of the company that makes the product should test the quality of the product. This can be NSF testing, Lab Door, Consumer Labs, or USP. Again these should be labeled on the container.
Consumer Labs is one a lab which does independent testing. They have recently released its findings for many popular brands, both over-the-counter brands and health care provider brands. Their standards for testing were:
- for the nutrients to be appropriately labeled with the same amount of nutrient as the label indicates.
- to dissolve within 30 minutes as recommended by the US Pharmacopeia.
- to avoid toxicity.
Here are some of the brands they found which met their standards.
Healthcare Provider Brands
These brands are only available through a healthcare provider, as they will not be found in your local health food store or grocery store.
Over the counter brands vary greatly. They can be found in a health food store or at your local grocery store.
Garden of Life mykind Organics (made from whole food ingredients, which may be difficult for people who have food sensitivities)
Kirklands Signature Daily Multi
GNC Women’s Ultra Mega
Again, nutrients that come from their natural food sources always trump nutrients that come from a supplement. However, if your diet is not stellar, and let’s face it, most people’s are not, a multivitamin can be part of a good back up plan.