The Best Multivitamins

by dr kotb and his team

 

We started out with enough options to fill an entire aisle at your friendly neighborhood supplement store: 289 varieties of tablets, capsules, gummies, chewables, and liquids. Our goal was to find which ones were the safest and most effective to take. We found the best multivitamins have independent certifications for label accuracy and purity, plus a well-rounded formula that hits the majority of FDA-recommended ingredients. Food-derived or synthetic? The choice is yours — science says they’re both effective, but you’ll pay several times more for food-based vitamins.

The 5 Best Multivitamins

Best for Women
MegaFood Women’s One Daily
MegaFood
The nutrients in these multivitamins are sourced from real foods using transparent practices.
Pros
Third-party verified
Transparency
Short list of inactive fillers
Traceable ingredients
Cons
Cost
No concrete benefits of food-based formulas

Why we chose it

Third-party verified

One big reason these multivitamins went to the top of our list: In an industry filled with misdirection and misinformation, MegaFood is a beacon of transparency. Its supplements are certified GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) with NSF International, which assures “the product produced has the identity, strength, composition, quality, and purity that it is represented to possess,” and MegaFood adheres to ISO 9001 standards, meaning its labs comply with the highest standards of quality assurance and testing.

Transparency

Its certifications alone are more than enough to stand out from the crowd, but it doesn’t stop there. MegaFood provides links to the farmers who supply the food it derives nutrients from. It’s certified vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO. It’s herb- and pesticide-free. And its New Hampshire facilities even have an extensive network of cameras so you can personally watch its lab employees in action. The company is so keen to show what it’s all about, it coined its own slogan: Big T Transparency.

The transparency won big points with us — not just for being different than other multivitamins, but because it means we know exactly what’s in these vitamins — the ingredients and where they came from.

Short list of inactive fillers

There are just three ingredients used to bind the tablet together, and all are found in nature: plant cellulose, vegetable lubricant, and the chemical compound silica (basically, sand). An inactive ingredient list this short is a rarity in the supplement world, and that helped push these multivitamins to the top of our pile. (By comparison, Kirkland Signature has 13.)

Traceable ingredients

Beyond Big T, MegaFood has another huge distinction: Its multivitamins’ nutrients are derived exclusively from fruits, vegetables, and grains, meaning the vitamin A within is extracted from carrots; the vitamin C comes from organic oranges; and the vitamin K was once inside a cabbage. Many other nutrients, including the iron in the women’s multivitamin and the vitamin B12 in both blends, were derived from a yeast known as “saccharomyces cerevisiae,” a natural ingredient commonly used in brewing and baking. While the jury is still out on the tangible benefits of food-based supplements, they are must-haves for plenty of consumers, and MegaFood delivers.

Points to consider

Cost

There is one clear downside to MegaFood multivitamins: They’ll cost you. MegaFood’s transparency and food-based ingredients make for a more expensive multivitamin compared to most other options. If those two factors are important to you, you won’t find a better multivitamin. But more affordable options are available, without sacrificing quality.

No concrete benefits of food-based formulas

Advocates say they’re better because they contain fewer chemicals and are derived from real foods. But critics argue synthetic nutrients have a more reliable shelf life. What does the science say? “No one knows for sure,” says Robin Foroutan, a registered dietician nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The research is not there.”

Best for Men
MegaFood Multi for Men
MegaFood
Formulated for men — notably, there’s no calcium, iron, or magnesium.
Pros
Verification and transparency
Ingredients
No calcium, iron, or magnesium
Cons
Cost-effectiveness

Why we chose it

Verification and transparency

The MegaFood Multi for Men supplements have the same basic benefits and drawbacks as the Women’s One formula: They’re certified GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) with NSF International and adhere to ISO 9001 standards, which speaks to the integrity of the lab and testing processes. Such quality extends beyond the product and testing and into the company’s overall standards — its New Hampshire facilities even have cameras so consumers can witness its lab employees at work. MegaFood calls these practices Big T Transparency — evidence that the company has nothing to hide.

Ingredients

MegaFood uses three natural ingredients bind the tablets together: plant cellulose, vegetable lubricant, and the chemical compound silica (sand). All of the nutrients in the vitamins come exclusively from fruits, vegetables, and grains — the vitamin A within is extracted from carrots; the vitamin C comes from organic oranges; and the vitamin K was once inside a cabbage.

No calcium, iron, or magnesium

As a multivitamin for men, specifically, the formula purposely excludes calcium, iron, and magnesium: MegaFood’s website states that “It’s not recommended for men to supplement their diet with iron or calcium unless otherwise recommended and under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.” However, a note at the bottom of the page reveals that the particular statement has not been vetted by the FDA. We suggest speaking with your doctor first to find out what supplements you need — and those you should avoid.

Differences between the men’s and women’s blends?

Points to consider

Price

All that transparency and real-food ingredients comes at a significant cost: These MegaFood vitamins cost you a pretty penny at $0.96 per serving. You’re paying more to get your ingredients straight from real foods, but our experts say the research favoring food-based ingredients over synthetic ones isn’t there. But if having vitamins made from whole foods is important to you, you can’t get any better than MegaFoods.

Best Value
Kirkland Signature Daily Multi
Kirkland Signature
A great blend of nutrients and third-party certifications, at only 2 cents per serving.
Pros
Well-rounded nutrients
Cost-effective
Cons
Formula inconsistencies
Iron amount

Why we chose it

Well-rounded nutrients

If you’re just looking for a non-gendered, adult multivitamin, you can’t get a much better bargain than the synthetic Kirkland Signature Daily Multi from Costco. It contains all 27 wishlist nutrients, though it only has 80 milligrams of potassium — about 2% of the recommended daily value. Unlike MegaFood, the nutrients in these multivitamins are synthetic, meaning they’re created in a lab instead of extracted from a carrot or a head of broccoli. (This may make some people squeamish, but there’s no evidence that synthetics are better or worse than naturally-sourced vitamins).

Cost-effective

Unlike the MegaFood Multi for Men, Kirkland’s 500-count bottle gives you a decent amount for what you pay. Each tablet costs 2 cents, and you’re getting all 27 key nutrients in each (plus calcium, which MegaFood lacks), so we consider this a win-win scenario. However, the tradeoff is that you may be getting a little more or less of any one nutrient — but still within safe levels.

Points to consider

Formula inconsistencies

Although it received a relatively high score from Labdoor (66 out of 100), there are a few red flags for label claim variance. The worst offense was folic acid levels at 31% above the label claim. This isn’t a dangerous level, but it does show some inconsistencies in formulation.

Iron amount

Another caveat: This vitamin contains 18 milligrams of iron. That’s 100% of the RDA for premenopausal women, but exceeds the 8 milligram RDA for postmenopausal women and men. The National Institute of Health guidelinespoint out that an 18 milligram dosage is common in multivitamins, but warn against acute intakes of more than 20 milligrams. If you have an iron-heavy diet (lots of beef, poultry, or beans), you might be safer with one of our other picks.

Best for Kids
Rainbow Light Kids One MultiStars Food-Based Multivitamin
Rainbow Light
A food-based, child-friendly formula from a well-regarded brand.
Pros
Wide range of necessary nutrients
Taste
Cons
Added sweeteners

Why we chose it

Wide range of necessary nutrients

Robin Foroutan, the registered dietician nutritionist we spoke to, recommended Rainbow Light as a “really good quality” brand. After looking through the ingredient list, we agree. Like our adult top picks, this is a food-based multivitamin. It contains kid-friendly doses of a wide range of necessary nutrients — even potassium, which is important for children and adults but absent in most formulas. What’s more, it’s free of artificial fillers or dyes.

Taste

Most experts recommend that children, like adults, get their nutrients from food whenever possible. But if your kids balk at carrots and broccoli, sometimes multivitamins are the simplest way to cover diet deficiencies. The tablets themselves are crunchy and star-shaped, with a surprisingly tasty “fruit punch” flavor that comes from natural orange, cherry, and pineapple flavor. Because kids need lower doses of most nutrients than adults, however, it’s important to choose a formula specifically for children (and one they’ll actually want to eat).

Points to consider

Added sweeteners

This is the one downside we found to these Rainbow Light multivitamins. You’ll find sucrose and dextrose labeled on the back of the bottle, but this comes with the territory: We couldn’t find a single children’s multivitamin that didn’t contain sweeteners of some sort. And if you want your child to willingly eat the multivitamin, it’ll probably help.

Best for Seniors
Kirkland Signature™ Adults 50+ Mature Multi
Kirkland Signature
An affordable synthetic vitamin formulated for the dietary needs of seniors.
Pros
Good amounts of B12 and D vitamins
Cons
Labeling accuracy

Why we chose it

Good amounts of B12 and D

Among seniors’ multivitamins, we like Kirkland Signature Adults 50+ Mature Multi. Adults age 50 and older have slightly different nutritional needs than those in the 18-49 age bracket. Seniors tend to absorb less B12 as they age, with the Mayo Clinic recommending supplementation to maintain healthy B12 levels.

The recommended amount of vitamin B12 for adults is around 2.4 micrograms per day, so Kirkland’s 25 might seem like too much — but there is no suggested cap on B12 consumption. Your body will absorb as much as it needs, and any excess will pass through urine. Seniors also typically require higher doses of vitamin D to maintain bone health. The serving size is just one pill per day, and it’s also an affordable option: A bottle of 400 pills retails for about $13, or $0.03 per dose.

Points to consider

Labeling accuracy

The Kirkland Mature Multi fared well in most categories, bringing in a solid 68.5 out of 100 on Labdoor. But the product isn’t completely free of impurities — in fact, the vitamin B-6 amount measured nearly 26% over its label claim of 3 milligrams. However, this isn’t dangerous, as the upper limit for B-6 consumption is 100 milligrams.

How to Find the Right Multivitamin for You

Make sure you’re taking appropriate amounts

Perhaps more important than scouring daily recommended values is keeping an eye on recommended upper limits. ConsumerLabs.com has a detailed chart that compares recommended daily values with upper limits, but in general, it’s not a good idea to consume excessive doses of any one vitamin or nutrient.

Upper limits for any vitamin vary widely: More than twice the recommended amount of Vitamin A is dangerous, but you can have up to 26 times the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C without experiencing any ill effects.

Catherine Price said her research shows a multivitamin probably won’t contain a dangerous amount of vitamins or minerals on its own — and none of our top picks exceed recommended upper limits for any ingredient. But she said taking a multivitamin while supplementing with other vitamins or while consuming fortified foods or beverages could lead to a “superdose” — a vitamin dosage so far over the recommended amount it can lead to problems.

For kids, superdoses can be fatal. Warnings to keep multivitamins containing iron out of children’s reach are there for a reason: Accidental iron consumption is a leading cause of poisoning deaths in children younger than 6. Gummy vitamins can be especially dangerous for kids, since they resemble candy or fruit snacks. Always store multivitamins out of young children’s reach.

Find out whether you actually need a multivitamin

When it comes to nutrition, “the most important thing is eating a balanced diet with nutrient-rich foods, and then supplementing to fill missing gaps,” said Palmer. “If your diet is pretty good, it might not really be necessary — maybe supplement a few times a week if you’re really concerned about shortfalls.”

Multivitamins aren’t miracle supplements, though. “You really cannot supplement your way out of an unhealthy diet,” says Foroutan. But Foroutan also says she sometimes advises her clients to take one, especially if their diets lack important nutrients.

Even in some cases of nutrient deficiency, a multivitamin might be overkill, Palmer adds. “For most people, they may not be lacking in every single essential vitamin and mineral — it may be just one or two,” she told us. “For example, someone at risk for osteoporosis may want to take calcium; someone battling iron anemia may want to take iron; and a vegetarian may want to take B12.”

Pregnant women, Miller says, are the exception. It’s widely agreed that pregnant women should take a supplement that includes folic acid to support the developing fetal nervous system. (Check out our review of the Best Prenatal Vitamins if you’re expecting.)

Know your nutrients (and their benefits)

To help you navigate the buying process regardless of your individual nutritional needs, we’ve provided the following guide with a quick overview of different vitamins and minerals, common food sources, and the most up-to-date recommended daily values for adults (measured in international units, micrograms, milligrams, and grams). Of course, no multivitamin is going to have 100% of what you need, so your best bet is to talk to your doctor to find out what you’re lacking, and find a supplement that’s stacked in your favor.

Daily values are changing.

Vitamins

Vitamin A

Vitamin C

Vitamin D

Vitamin E

Vitamin K

B Vitamins

Biotin

Choline

Folate

Niacin

Pantothenic Acid

Riboflavin

Thiamin

Vitamin B-6

Vitamin B-12

Minerals

Calcium

Chromium

Copper

Iodine

Iron

Magnesium

Molybdenum

Manganese

Phosphorus

Potassium

Selenium

Zinc

Multivitamin FAQ

Will a multivitamin overcompensate for a lacking diet?

The short answer: no. When we called Dr. Edgar Miller, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, he told us he doesn’t recommend that his patients take multivitamins, since several studies have indicated they might do more harm than good: Research has shown high doses of vitamin A seemed to increase the risk of lung cancer, and another study of vitamin E’s effect on prostate cancer was called off after those taking the supplements showed higher cancer rates. Dr. Miller put things pretty plainly: “I hate to advocate for any multivitamin, really. Just getting your vitamins from food is better.”

How do I know whether I need multivitamins?

Talk to your doctor. If you still suspect your diet is lacking, or if you can’t change what you eat due to dietary restrictions, meet with your doctor to discuss taking a multivitamin. He or she may order a blood test to detect nutritional deficiencies, or make recommendations about dietary modifications. If it’s a severe deficiency, your doctor will likely recommend or prescribe a supplement for whichever specific nutrients you lack. Only mild deficiencies can be fixed by a multivitamin.

How do I know whether my diet is lacking?

Keep a food journal for a week. Track everything fueling your body. If your diet lacks nutrients or seems especially imbalanced, try to change it. All four of our experts agree that food is hands-down the best way to consume vitamins and minerals.

Are there any other ways to get vitamins outside of diet and supplements?

Most vitamins can be found in food, but vitamin D remains a notable exception: Your body synthesizes vitamin D when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit your skin. Our picks contain vitamin D, but as always, vitamins are best absorbed from natural sources.

The Best Multivitamins: Summed Up

MegaFood Women’s One Daily
MegaFood Multi for Men
Kirkland Signature Daily Multi
Rainbow Light Kids One MultiStars Food-Based Multivitamin
Kirkland Signature Adults 50+ Mature Multi
Best for Women
Best for Men
Best Value
Best for Kids
Best for Seniors
Number of Servings
30
30
500
30
400
Price Per Serving
$0.69
$0.96
$0.02
$0.37
$0.02
Notable certifications /verifications:
ISO certified
NSF certified
ISO certified
NSF certified
ConsumerLab
USP-certified
ConsumerLab
ConsumerLab
USP-certified
Food-Based
Synthetic

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