The best multivitamins and what they should contain

Have you bought multivitamins lately? Have you heard they can prevent a cold? (They don’t.) Or perhaps that multivitamins are useless? (They’re not.) Or that they could even lead to a shorter life? (They don’t.) There’s certainly a ton of debate.

It can be pretty confusing, to say the least. There are multivitamins for every age group, for men and women, some that are for athletes, and some for the weekend warrior.

Some multivitamins contain extra Vitamin D, or C, or calcium, or B vitamins. Then, of course, there are name brands and store brands. How can you tell which multivitamins are the best multivitamins?

Let’s start with the easy part.

[text_ad]

When trying to decide between a big-name brand or a store-brand multivitamin, chances are the store brand has copied the name brand and ingredient lists are almost, if not completely, identical. This includes the active and inactive ingredients, plus equivalent percentages of each vitamin and mineral component.

Assuming that is the same, where do we go now? Without spending hours reading each label, how can you figure out which are the best multivitamins for you?

What the best multivitamins should contain:

  • Vitamin A……………No more than 5,000 IU
  • Vitamin C……………60 – 1,000 mg
  • Vitamin D…………..400 IU or more
  • Vitamin E……………20 – 100 IU
  • Vitamin K…………..10 mcg or more
  • Thiamin (B-1)………1.2 mg or more
  • Riboflavin (B-2)……1.7 mg or more
  • Niacin (B-3)………..14 – 35 mg
  • Vitamin B 6…………2 – 100 mg
  • Folic Acid……………No more than 400 mcg
  • Vitamin B 12……….6 mcg or more
  • Calcium……………..Though most multivitamins contain calcium, don’t rely on a multivitamin for it.
  • Iron……………………No more than 10 mg, or 18 mg for premenopausal women
  • Magnesium…………50 – 350 mg
  • Zinc…………………..No more than 30 mg
  • Copper……………….0.5 – 10 mg
  • Selenium……………20 – 110 mcg
  • Chromium…………35 mcg or more
  • Potassium………….Don’t rely on a multivitamin for potassium

Note: “Or more” doesn’t mean that a nutrient is safe at any dose, but that levels in multivitamins are unlikely to be high enough to cause harm.

And men, your multivitamin should have no more than around 250 mg of calcium.

What Do the Best Multivitamins Contain

A list of the best multivitamins

Here’s a selection of the best multivitamins from some major brands that meet our criteria (listed above), plus a few that just miss for reasons that don’t matter (see footnotes). If yours isn’t on the list, don’t panic; we didn’t look at every multivitamin. You can check any label against our list above.

The Best Multivitamins for Men & Postmenopausal Women

  • Centrum Men Under 50* (1)
  • Centrum Silver Adults 50+
  • Centrum Silver Men 50+
  • CVS Daily Multiple Tablets for Men
  • CVS Spectravite Adult 50+ Multivitamin
  • Equate Complete Multivitamin Adults 50+
  • Equate Complete Multivitamin Men’s 50+
  • Equate Complete Multivitamin Women’s 50+*
  • Equate One Daily Men’s Health
  • Nature Made Multi for Her 50+
  • Nature Made Multi for Him
  • Nature Made Multi for Him 50+
  • Nature’s Bounty ABC Plus Senior
  • Nutrilite Daily Multivitamin Multimineral*
  • One A Day Men’s 50+ Healthy Advantage (2)
  • One A Day Men’s Health Formula
  • One A Day Women’s 50+ Healthy Advantage (2)
  • Target Up & Up Adults’ Multivitamins
  • Walgreens A thru Z Select Multivitamin

* Contains 6 or 8 mg of iron (other multivitamins in the list have no iron).
(1) Contains 1.3 mg of riboflavin.
(2) Contains 117 mcg of selenium

The Best Multivitamins for Premenopausal Women

  • Centrum Adults Under 50
  • CVS Daily Multiple Tablets for Women (1)
  • CVS Spectravite Ultra Women’s Multivitamin (1)
  • Equate Complete Multivitamin Adults Under 50
  • Equate One Daily Women’s Health (2)
  • Kirkland Signature Daily Multi
  • Nature Made Multi Complete
  • Nature’s Bounty ABC Plus
  • Nature’s Bounty Multi-Day Plus Minerals
  • Nature’s Bounty Multi-Day Women’s (2)
  • One A Day Women’s
  • Sundown Advanced Formula SunVite
  • Sundown Naturals Complete Daily with Iron
  • Target Up & Up Multivitamin
  • Target Up & Up Women’s Daily Multivitamin (2)
  • Walgreens One Daily for Women (2)

(1) Contains 25 mcg of chromium.
(2) Contains 10 mg of niacin.

As with any health advice, if you have questions or concerns, consult a healthcare practitioner you trust. Be aware that pharmacists may not know much about nutrition and what they believe about dietary supplements may be merely what the supplement companies have told them about their products.

Do you have a favorite multivitamin? Let us know in the comments. 

This article was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly. 

51 Replies to “The best multivitamins and what they should contain”

  1. So “Men” rate a separate line about calcium intake. Women are all lumped together as premenopausal. Women over 50 don’t count? That’s one of the reasons I removed my name from your mailing list. Women do the purchasing and women have more problems but everything seems to be directed at the male gender or the sweet young chicks.

    Shame on you.

    1. Sorry Tina, but did you see the heading “Men & Postmenopausal Women” – men actually get lumped in there…women have pre and post-menopausal sections, but being 48, I appreciate being thought of as a ‘sweet young chick’ 🙂

      1. So why is the Centrum Silver Men 50+ listed but the Centrum Silver Women is not listed? The ingredients are different — Women’s formula contains more calcium for one thing. Did you not look at the Women’s formula in your analysis?

      2. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: Centrum Silver for Women was included in the Centrum Silver Adults 50+ category, so it is also among the Best. Admittedly, this isn’t as clear as it should be.

  2. One A Day’s supplement facts may look ok. It’s not until you read the host of ingredients that they get a little scary with not to mention the multi FD & C Blue #1 Lake & FD & C #2 Blue Lake they add to color the pills with & what’s a little Titanium Dioxide for color hurt.

  3. Some of these contain Titanium as an additive ingredient. I thought we were supposed to stay away from that, at least that’s what Consumer Reports says.

  4. The best “Multi-Vitamin” article on Yahoo (01/06/2014) contains some incorrect information. 1,000 mg of Vitamin C is way too high of a dose, (95 mg–125 mg is the proper amount). 400 IU of Vitamin D is way too low of a dose (Current research suggests at least a daily minimum of 1,000 IU–2,000 IU is a much more appropriate level). Also, the various B Vitamins should be taken in an equal amount (Such as a Balanced B-50 Formula) to promote maximum absorption by the body. I thought that “Nutrition Action” was aware of all the latest research and studies concerning Vitamins ??? This article contains far too many inaccuracies for an organization dedicated to advancing the cause of proper nutrition and good health.

    1. Our Multivitamin article is a guide to the acceptable levels of nutrients found in popular multivitamins, not the optimal daily amounts of these nutrients that we should be getting. We are not recommending 1,000 mg of vitamin C, only pointing out that a multivitamin with 60 mg to 1,000 mg of C is OK to take. We advise that consumers get 600 IU to 800 IU a day of vitamin D and that a suitable multivitamin should contain at least 400 IU of that. As for balancing B vitamins, the daily requirements are different for the various B vitamins and there’s no evidence that taking them in these different amounts causes any problems, despite what manufacturers say who want to sell you extra vitamins.

  5. Wow! After reading the comments on multivitamins who am I suppose to believe? Lately I have found that doctors aere not recommending muti-vitamins if eat a sensible diet.

    1. Yes, many so called experts say you don’t need a vitamin pill if you eat a balanced diet. But not once have I ever seen any of these experts list what you could eat in one day that would contain no more then 2000 calories and still contain the RDA for all vitamins and minerals.

      1. Yes. Please show us the contents of a diet for one day that provides all the necessary nutrients without supplements! That would be an eye opening and helpful list.

  6. Hi, I enjoy your magazine and conferences. As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist who works with patients of several medical doctors, and Vice Chair of the charitable foundation that promotes orthomolecular (therapeutic nutrition) treatments of mental illness, isfmentalhealth.org, I’m sure you realize we all are individuals and need to address our own biological needs when taking nutrients. Many lab tests exist for nutrient deficiencies, that a person can request from their doctor such as (25 OH) Vitamin D test to ascertain the stores in the body, zinc, even Vitamin C and of course ferritin (iron stores). There’s even panels of tests for essential fatty acids. (Companies such as NutriChem in Canada can test for you.) Some other tests are not so accurate (such as magnesium) and symptoms often tell the story. Some of the professional brands that naturopathic doctors and holistic nutritionists often use are Genestra/Seroyal, AOR (Advanced Orthomolecular Medicine), Life Extensions, Thorne and Douglas Labs. I’ve always been taught to read the labels about colours, dyes and other fillers which can cause problems for many, and whether a pill will actually melt or not due to a shellac coating. You can call a company to ask about their processing of their product. Edison Institute (nutrition school) as well as Canadian School of Natural Nutrition have great courses (or consulting) and information about how to choose a vitamin. According to the Poison Control Centre, people don’t die from taking vitamins. Check Andrew Saul’s site, doctoryourself.com about research regarding the safety of vitamins. Lots of good information is available. Yes we have to search. But it’s worth it and of course a whole food, natural diet is the very best first step. Just a note: poor diets, stress and pollution of our environment and mineral deficient soils are just some of the reasons we need vitamins/minerals and essential fatty acids and sometimes digestion aids to fortify us as we age to keep us healthy.

  7. Is there a difference other than price between the synthetic or unspecified sources in the brands on your recommended list versus the “organic, whole food-based” vitamins marketed by companies like New Chapter and Garden of Life? Are these not on your recommended list because their vitamin levels don’t meet the accepted levels or just weren’t in the study or is there somethiing else wrong with them?

  8. Can you explain the notation: “Men: Your multi should have no more than around 250 mg of calcium”. Most don’t have even that and I can think of a few reasons why you would not want more, but I’d like to know your reason for calling this out. Thanks very much.

      1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: We Googled your question. “CVS Pharmacy used to be a subsidiary of Melville Corporation, where its full name was initially Consumer Value Stores.”

  9. I have been using GNC multi-vitamins forever. A couple of years ago I switched to their Mega Men 50 Plus. I take a total of 34 vitamins a day. @ of the vitamins (Folic Acid and Niacin) put me over the maximum you stated as the recommended amount. Should I cut also taking them separately? I also take 1000mh Vitamin C time release which in total surpasses the amount with my multi-vitamin as a daily amount. Should these be cut down too?

    1. From Nutrition Action Heathletter: Kirkland Signature Daily Multi contains 18 mg of iron, which is now considered too much for older adults to be taking regularly unless they’ve been diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia.

  10. I understand that it is not only the ingredients but how well they are absorbed. Many vitamins look good from the labels but are not utilized well by the body. I would like to see a study of how effective the multivitamin is once it enters the system. We’ve all heard about expensive urine!

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: In an analysis of 42 commercial multivitamins, consumerlab.com found only two that did not disintegrate properly. Centrum sponsored a recent study showing that the levels of vitamins rose in the blood after people took its multivitamins and there’s no reason to think it would be different for other major brands. The notion that synthetic vitamins are worthless is nonsense, since there’s nearly a hundred years of research showing they are well absorbed. The anecdotes about expensive urine usually refer to taking greater amounts of vitamins than the body can use or store.

  11. Cooper Complete is a high quality vitamin from the Cooper Institute, but you don’t list it. I believe it has been well researched.

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: Biotin is so widespread and plentiful in food that a deficiency does not occur naturally. If you are eating food, you do not need supplemental biotin.

  12. With all due respect to the author and the various “holistic” commentators, there is no benefit to buying supplements in this country. It is much better to consume a balanced diet (vegetables, fruits and whole grains) which are available year round.
    Taking multivitamins only helps whoever sells them. Women in their 40’s and 50’s who took multivitamins did not live as long as those who didn’t (see the Nurses Study). The only exceptions: folic acid for women planning pregnancy and vitamin D for people living north of the Atlanta line (will gladly enclose the science behind this comment). By the way, vitamins and supplements are not controlled by the FDA and Consumer Reports tests showed that most brand contain anywhere between 15 and 150 percent of what is on the labels so buyer beware.

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: We disagree that there is no benefit to buying dietary supplements in this country and you seem to agree because you point out the value of taking supplemental folic acid and vitamin D for many people.

      You can add vitamin B-12 to the list. The Institute of Medicine recommends that older adults, generally 50 and older, take 2.4 micrograms of synthetic vitamin B-12 every day because a significant proportion of older adults cannot digest the B-12 from food. The only way to get synthetic B-12 is from a supplement or from fortified food.

      We could find no publication from the Nurses’ Health Study showing that women in their 40s and 50s who took multivitamins did not live as long. But we can find many similar studies in women and men showing that people taking multivitamins live at least as long as those who don’t.

      A better source of information about the quality of dietary supplements is consumerlab.com. In its most recent analysis of multivitamins, 12 of the 39 products it tested contained less or more of a vitamin than what was listed on the labels.

  13. Kirkland (Costco) “Mature-Multi” for the 50+ generation has no iron and is one of the most complete vitamin supplements I’ve found.

  14. What’s the deal; with limiting calcium to 250 mg? 1st I’ve ever heard of that. Usually the recommendation is 1000mg-1200mg for seniors. so why??

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: We said men shouldn’t take a multi with more than 250 mg of calcium, not that they shouldn’t consume a total of more than 250 mg of calcium a day. With the calcium in most men’s diets, they don’t need more than a supplement of 250 mg to get all they need and there’s some evidence that too much calcium in the diet may raise the risk of prostate cancer.

  15. Hi. I am curious as to why you omit Trader Joe’s brand of Multivitamin/Mineral combinations. It is my understanding, after speaking with them several years ago, they have their own version of quality control which sounds quite good. Also I believe most of their products are what they say they are, so in the case of vitamins they are good and decently if not well priced compared to the national brands.
    I take the their supplements and suggest them to my patients as well*
    Also I am bit surprised that some of the items that made you list contain fillers and colorings. I don’t think these should be in vitamins and mineral supplements.

    *I am a Registered Dietitian, just so you know from what viewpoint I speak from.

    Thanks

    1. From Nutrition Action Healthletter: Trader Joe’s women’s formula multivitamin, for example, is a strange combination of nutrients. Far more of most of the B vitamins and vitamin A than is needed, but too little vitamin D and no vitamin K at all.

  16. How about MegaFood’s Women’s One Daily? My wife and older daughter take this multivitamin. I compared it to the list and it meets all the suggested items and levels, plus some, except a bit short on magnesium. This is a food based one a day. thanks

  17. Have you heard of Melaleuca.Inc? They use a patented process called “oligo” referring to the fact that the minerals are bound to organic protein & fiber rather than synthetics. Why didn’t you include these?

  18. Don’t be misled by the brand name: ONE A DAY. One would assume that a person would take a single tablet each day. Their Proactive 65+ supplement facts lists the nutritional components for one serving. But the one serving is TWO tablets per day. So if you’re ingesting only one tablet daily, you’re getting half a dosage of the supplements. I haven’t yet checked the shelves to see how many other of their products are similarly labeled.

  19. Centrum Silver has Vit K in it. I find it incredulous that they put in VERY TINY print that this is K1. Difficult for elderly to read but entirely unnecessary for someone on a plant based diet that you promote. Because MDs generally don’t ‘believe in supplementation (with many attributing a placebo effect to them), my father’s cardiologist says Centrum Silver is GREAT and that, despite the K1 in them, he should continue to take them. Even though he is recovering from a CABG of 4 of 5 blocked arteries and has advised that Ubiquinol and Fish oils will do nothing for his statin treated cv system or subsequent afib one year later (after stringent to dieting and a severe lowering if his cholesterol …which was always normal, via standard chol testing).

    I love your blog/column but Centrum Silver is something I have investigated: yes, it is cheap and so it is recommended. But one might as well buy some organic vegetables. They use the cheapest form of each vitamin…which doesn’t really benefit the consumer. Cynocobalimin …Really?? In the elderly where H2’s and omeprezole is common..nevermind decreasing stomach acid after 50????? Magnesium OXIDE…really? Hydrogenated Palm oil? Yellow & red colorings? Cheap but worthless expenditure. I think it us irresponsible for my father’s MD to endorse them when he know’s my father’s diet & lifestyle makes him the model patient.
    I’m happy to see you say they are not useless…but do review your endorsement of Centrum Silver

  20. As a nutrition and dietetics student for the past four years, on my way to becoming a registered dietitian, I did a thorough research of multivitamin and mineral supplements. As we know, supplements are not regulated so it’s important to have reliable sources. I’m a fan of Trader Joe’s Active 50+ Once Daily Multivitamin & Mineral tablets. It doesn’t exceed 100% daily value for most of the ingredients except B-12 and a few others. I also appreciate that it doesn’t contain iron since I no longer need iron supplements. It’s only 1 tablet per day and it is a good value. I think it should be added to the list.

  21. Other than opinion, is there any evidence that multivitamins are helpful in otherwise healthy individuals who eat a variety of veggies and fruits and have some animal based protein like chicken, fish, dairy and eggs?

  22. Here is my favorite: Thompson All In One Multivitamin Iron Free

    Supplement Facts
    Serving Size: 1 Vegetarian Capsule
    Servings per Container: 60
    Amount Per Serving % Daily Value
    Vitamin A (as Beta-Carotene) 5000 IU 100%
    Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 60 mg 100%
    Vitamin D2 (cholecalciferol) 400 IU 100%
    Vitamin E (as natural source d-alpha tocopheryl acetate) (soy) 30 IU 100%
    Vitamin K (phytonadione) 80 mcg 100%
    Thiamine (as thiamine mononitrate)(b-1) 1.5 mg 100%
    Riboflavin (B2) 1.7 mg 100%
    Niacin (as niacinamide) (B3) 20 mg 100%
    Vitamin B6 (as pyridoxine HCl) 2 mg 100%
    Folate (as folic acid) 400 mcg 100%
    Vitamin B12 (as cyanocobalamin) 6 mcg 100%
    Biotin 300 mcg 100%
    Pantothenic Acid (as calcium pantothenate) 10 mg 100%
    Iodine (as potassium iodide) 150 mcg 100%
    Magnesium (as magnesium oxide) 50 mg 13%
    Zinc (as zinc oxide) 15 mg 100%
    Selenium (selenomethionine) 70 mcg 100%
    Copper (as copper citrate) 2 mg 100%
    Manganese (as manganese citrate) 2 mg 100%
    Chromium (as chromium picolinate) 120 mcg 100%
    Molybdenum (as molybdenum glycinate) 75 mcg 100%
    Potassium (as potassium phosphate) 99 mg 3%

  23. I’ve done some research but limited to comparisons of commercial vitamins and Kirkland (Costco) brand. Kirkland brands are more cost effective and seem to meet my needs. So even if there are Nature Made or other brands with possible coupons or discounts, I keep returning to Kirkland brand. The Mature Multi fits in my dietary supplement plan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *