Ideally, you should be getting your daily supply of vitamins and minerals from your diet, not from pill-popping. What's more, food provides you with energy in the form of calories—something you don't get from pills. However, it's a good idea for most folks to take a daily multi-vitamin/mineral that supplies 100 percent of the RDA.
Specific groups at nutritional risk include people with these qualities:
- Do you constantly skip meals, grabbing only snack foods throughout the day? Do you eat fewer than five fruits and vegetables each day? You might benefit from a multivitamin/mineral supplement (supplying up to 100 percent of the RDA) to fill in the nutrition gaps. Also, consider a separate calcium supplement with vitamin D.
- Are you a vegan, a strict vegetarian who consumes absolutely no meat, dairy, or other animal products? You might benefit from a supplement that supplies the RDA for B-12 and the mineral calcium.
- Are you over 60 years old? People in this category might have a decline in the absorption of the following vitamins: B-6, B-12, C, D, E, folic acid, and the mineral calcium. A one-a-day multivitamin/mineral might provide some extra backup. Also think about some extra calcium and vitamin D if you are not eating enough calcium-rich food.
- Do you regularly drink alcohol or smoke? Excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking interfere with the body's ability to absorb and utilize certain vitamins and minerals. However, in this case, a supplement recommendation is not the advice—instead seek help ASAP to kick your unhealthy habit.
- Are you a professional dieter—on/off every wacky fad diet out there? Chances are you're cheating your body of important nutrients and would probably benefit from the backup of a one-a-day multivitamin/mineral supplement and a separate calcium supplement.
- Do you completely avoid specific types of foods? Some people stay away from certain foods for reasons including food allergies, intolerances, or just plain dislikes. In these cases, supplements of specific nutrients might be needed. Also, a multivitamin/mineral is a good idea for extra backup.
For women only, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you experience heavy bleeding during monthly menstruation? If so, you might lose iron-rich blood. Check with your doctor whether you will benefit from taking a supplement with iron. Note that iron supplements tend to cause constipation, so consider taking a stool softener as well.
- Are you pregnant or breastfeeding? Women in this category have greater needs for the vitamins A, C, B-1, B-6, B-12, and folic acid, as well as the minerals iron and calcium. These extra amounts are usually included in prenatal vitamins. You might need more calcium than the prenatal supplements contain, so speak with your doctor if you aren't eating enough calcium-rich food.