Choosing a Good Multivitamin

This article is not intended to tell you what vitamins to specifically buy, but rather how to make an informed decision. You are making a financial choice in your vitamin purchase; choosing the highest quality vitamin makes your purchase worthwhile.

While good supplements are available at vitamin stores, it can be overwhelming even for the most knowledgeable consumer to know what to choose. The supplements available at Idaho Naturopathic Medicine are professional grade, hypoallergenic, and easily absorbed. We strive to bring you supplements that are thoroughly researched, tested for contaminants, and provide the highest quality ingredients. Please note, most of the products are for patients only, but we do provide multivitamins and fish oils over the counter to non-patients.

What does a good multivitamin look like?

• Choose Capsules. Capsules (as opposed to tablets) allow the nutrients to be unbound and thus more easily available and absorbable. Magnesium stearate is a common fat-based binder and must be digested by you before you can absorb the desired nutrients.

• Number of capsules. If encapsulated and unbound to magnesium stearate and other binders, one (1) capsule cannot give you all the ingredients you need. A one-a-day vitamin may be convenient, but it may not provide adequate amounts of nutrients. Six to eight (6-8) capsules usually is the amount needed to get everything you need. A smaller amount can be taken if calcium is not included in the formula.

• Amount of each ingredient. A good multivitamin will have sufficient, safe levels of nutrients. Often these amounts will be above or below the Percentage of Daily Value listed on the label. The Daily Value does not necessarily represent optimal levels. Reputable manufacturers will provide nutrients in sufficient levels but also in bioavailable forms.

• Other ingredients. A good multivitamin will only have a few extra ingredients, and these should only be fillers such as vegetable cellulose, or amino acids. Avoid vitamins that contain colorings or forms of sugar.

Read below for more information about making an informed decision.

Step 1: TABLETS OR CAPSULES: A Matter of Digestion. The better choice is capsule form.

Capsules. A capsule is usually made of animal or vegetable derived gelatin. This is digested in the stomach and then the nutrients are readily available.

Tablets. Tablets are made by combining all the ingredients and compressing them together. Sometimes these tablets are then coated with pharmaceutical glaze. To obtain these nutrients, the body has to digest this highly compressed tablet. If you have digestive weaknesses, you may or may not digest the entire vitamin.

Two easy tests help to determine how well you may absorb your vitamins.

1. Check the color of your urine after taking your multivitamin. If your urine is not bright yellow after taking the vitamin, either you are not absorbing the vitamin, or there are not enough B vitamins in the product to spill over into the kidneys.

2. Place your vitamin in a glass of water. It should dissolve somewhat in the water. This is not to say that you won’t absorb the vitamin if it doesn’t breakdown in water, but it will be easier to absorb if water-soluble.

Step 2: OTHER INGREDIENTS. Before you read what the active ingredients are, read the label for “other ingredients.” Many vitamins contain numerous non-active ingredients. If you have lots of unnecessary other ingredients, it does not matter how much active ingredients you have, the vitamin is already a poor choice. If you have any questions about ingredients, do a “Google” search and look them up. The following is list of common “other ingredients.”

Some “other ingredients” to avoid:

Magnesium stearate, calcium stearate, stearic acid. These are fat lubricants that allow the manufacturing process to run faster and prevent the capsulation/tabulating machines from clogging up. Many times, the fats are animal based. Each particle of your vitamin can be coated by this fat, which then needs to be digested before you can access the vitamin. As stated above, a good test to see you are digesting your vitamin is to see if your urine turns bright yellow after taking the vitamin.

Glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltodextrose, corn syrup, sucrose, lactose. These are sugars and unless they are added for flavor in children’s chewable vitamins, they aren’t needed. As soon as possible, wean your child from a chewable to a capsule to minimize their dependence on sugar and risk to dental health.

Sorbitol. This is a sugar alcohol, and although is not purely sugar, it is not beneficial in a vitamin. Sorbitol can also cause diarrhea. Xylitol is a beneficial sugar alcohol for the teeth, but some people will experience gastrointestinal bloating.

NutraSweet, Equal, Aspartame, Sucralose, Splenda. These are artificial sweeteners and are NOT beneficial to the body.

Polyethylene glycol. Although non-toxic, this chemical, when used in large dosages, is a treatment for constipation. It is unnecessary for use in highly absorbable vitamins.

Mineral Oil. Mineral oil is derived from petroleum and prevents absorption of nutrients. Given these two facts, taking a vitamin with mineral oil is a poor choice.

Dextrin. This is a binding product, making the nutrients less available for digestion.

Di-calcium phosphate. Di-calcium phosphate is an excipient (an inactive ingredient) and is not available to the body as calcium. A vitamin labeling both calcium and phosphorus may be counting the di-calcium phosphate as calcium, but it really doesn’t add much to the calcium content nutritionally.

• Any coloring. i.e., FD&C Red 6, FD&C blue 40, etc. Some of these colorings have been associated with mental/emotional changes in children.

• Any pharmaceutical glaze. You don’t need to have glaze on your nutrients – it is one more barrier to the desired nutrients.


Step 3: VITAMIN AND MINERAL FORMS. There are better forms of individual nutrients than others. You get what you pay for. Many lower cost products will use cheaper forms of vitamins. Unfortunately, these less expensive forms are poorly absorbed or poorly usable by the body. The following is a short list of examples.

Vitamin D: cholecalciferol, D3, is the active form of Vitamin D and is the preferable form.

Vitamin E

o The best form of Vitamin E is d-alpha tocopherol with mixed tocopherols (alpha, gamma).

o The synthetic form of Vitamin E is dl-alpha tocopherol. Note that the difference in labeling is “d” vs “dl” before the alpha. “dl” is not the best choice.

Vitamin B12. The best type of Vitamin B12 is methylcobalamin or hydroxycobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is the form in most vitamins and is usually fine for most people. If someone has chronic disease; however, a different form may be recommended.

Vitamin B6. The active form of B6 is pyridoxine 5-phosphate. This is usually designated at P-5-P.

Minerals. There are many forms of minerals. Minerals (the basic element) are bonded to compounds; the physical form of the mineral is usually designated by the last word of the name. Example: magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide. Each form has different amounts of the basic elemental mineral as compared to the size of the whole compound and will determine how absorbable the mineral is. A vitamin should indicate the level of actual mineral content, not mineral complex.

o For example: calcium carbonate (this includes coral calcium) is a large molecule.

The large size of the molecule means that it is not easily absorbed. Calcium carbonate also tends to be constipating for some people. Calcium citrate, by contrast, has smaller amounts of elemental calcium, but is much more easily absorbed than the carbonate form. The lesson here is that much more calcium carbonate is needed than calcium citrate. (An interesting note is that certain antacid medications contain calcium carbonate and are marketed as a source of calcium. However, because the purpose of a antacid is to inhibit stomach acid, and stomach acid is necessary for making minerals available for absorption, the body has a harder time actually utilizing the calcium!)

o Magnesium oxide is not easily absorbable and will cause more water to stay in the intestines, thus causing a looser stool. Magnesium citrate is smaller, more easily absorbed. Caution, however, the citrate form may also cause loose stools for some people.

o There are other forms of mineral compound chelates including gluconate, aspartate, and lactate.


In summary, choosing a vitamin may be as easy as grabbing one off the supermarket shelves, but with a little knowledge, the one you choose can be the right one for you. Read the labels carefully and make an informed decision. Your health is valuable and making informed choices can help your health and your pocketbook.