We get asked about supplements all the time in the Sleekgeek Health Revolution Facebook Group, so I’ve put together this guide to explain things from our perspective here at Sleekgeek.
I hope that you find it helpful in cutting through all the hype and marketing that typically surrounds supplements so that you can get down to the real-world benefits and everyday use.
Feel free to jump right to the bottom for our specific brand recommendations – but please do read on for full context and insight.
A quick word on responsibility and doing your research: One of the best things you can do when it comes to supplements of any kind is to look them up on Examine.com.
They are a great resource for independent and unbiased information on supplementation and nutrition to help you cut through all of the hyped-up marketing and commercial interest out there so that you can focus on what really works and avoid wasting your money.
What is a multivitamin supplement?
They can come in different forms such as tablets, capsules, chewables, powders, liquids, and even injections – each with their own advantages and disadvantages, but generally, tablets or pills are their most common form.
You may sometimes hear them referred to instead as Multiminerals, Multis, Multiples, MVMs, or even just simply Vitamins.
Multivitamins are one of the most commonly used supplements out there, which makes sense because they are simple and intuitive to use.
Many people consider them to be a sort of insurance against potential nutrient deficiencies and take them “just in case”, while others take them for very specific health reasons. Others still take them because they mistakenly believe it will make up for their poor eating habits.
Are multivitamin supplements useful?
First off, no one needs a multivitamin.
If someone tells you that you do, then you should be cautious. There’s a good chance that they are misinformed (but perhaps still well-intentioned) or they are trying to make money off of you.
With that said multivitamins can be useful and hopefully with the information below you can make your own informed decision.
To set the scene, it’s important to know that dietary deficiencies are very common and there is a good chance that you have one, no matter how good you think your diet is.
- In a study that analyzed 70 athlete diets, every single diet was deficient in at least 3 nutrients. In fact, some were missing up to 15 nutrients!
- Another study showed that people following 1 of 4 popular diets were also very likely to become deficient in certain micronutrients when relying on food alone.
Source: Precision Nutrition
This is a problem because vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients are essential to your overall health. When you’re deficient, your body doesn’t work as well as it should and it may negatively impact your health.
Taking a multivitamin may be a convenient way to address low-level or unknown deficiencies that you might have – but you should also know that if you have a very specific or severe deficiency then you are likely better off supplementing with a specific supplement in appropriate doses rather than choosing a more broad spectrum multivitamin.
What are the benefits?
Multivitamins can be very useful for specific at-risk populations, such as:
- Helping vegetarians and vegans meet their micronutrient needs.
- Reducing the risk of deficiency due to poor absorption in people with certain diseases or medical conditions (like Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, and Type 2 Diabetes).
- Improving the mood of those with subclinical mood symptoms such as anxiety, hostility, stress fatigue, and poor clarity of thought.
- Reducing the risk for cancer in people with poor or suboptimal nutritional status – but the evidence is mixed and not overwhelming.
While the current evidence shows that multivitamins do not improve general longevity or help a person live longer – that same evidence also shows that multivitamins are unlikely to shorten your life either, making them a fairly safe bet.  
However, some more anecdotal evidence benefits that are more related to the habit or action itself include:
- Taking a daily multivitamin is a great way to build a simple daily habit which could pay off in the long-run if you ever have to take more important supplements or medications in the future. Many people get given incredibly important (even life-saving) medications and fail to take them consistently because they struggle to build the habit. For example, in this study, 37% of people with Type 2 Diabetes did not take their medications as prescribed.
- Taking a daily multivitamin makes you feel good, gives you peace of mind, and puts you more in control. Just like how one bad action or event can cause things to seemingly spiral downwards and out of control, taking small positive action can cause things to spiral upwards and into control as well.
- Taking a daily multivitamin makes it easier to build your routine and add new habits into your life. It’s easier to stack new habits on top of existing habits (such as flossing after you brush your teeth) than it is to create a new habit on its own (such as brushing your teeth in the morning and then flossing later in the day at 1pm). The same goes for expanding your morning or evening routine by stacking a new healthy habit before or after your habit of taking your multivitamin.
What are the downsides?
Despite the number of supplement companies and health gurus promoting multivitamins as your ticket to optimal health, the official position statements and educated opinions from some of the world’s top health organisations are fairly underwhelming and cautious.
Some key points to note include:
- Very high doses of some vitamins (i.e. Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Beta-Carotene), minerals (i.e. Iron), and anti-oxidants can be harmful.
- Multivitamins can be expensive, especially when taken on a daily basis for years and years.
- Multivitamins are fairly unregulated, meaning that they could contain higher or lower levels of some nutrients than what is shown on the label.
- Many people mistakenly believe that taking a multivitamin can replace a balanced diet. It’s a supplement, not a replacement. Real food contains many other vitamins, minerals, fiber, nitrates, and phytochemicals that are not found in multivitamins.
- The people who are most likely to benefit from a multivitamin are those who are financially unable to consume a wide variety of healthy foods. Unfortunately, these same people who benefit the most are also the ones least likely to to be able to spend money on a multivitamin.
What we love the most about a multivitamin supplement is the simplicity. At Sleekgeek we’re all about making health as simple and do-able as possible.
The concept of a multivitamin being a sort of catch-all daily habit that you can tick off every morning to give yourself a slight edge and some peace of mind is fantastic.
For those that can afford multivitamins, the benefits are attractive.
Since most Sleekgeeks will fall into the specific “at risk” population of those on restricted calorie or limited-variety diets while also being super active, a multivitamin supplement is something that we feel comfortable in recommending. The main thing is to evaluate whether you feel it is necessary, use it responsibly, and have reasonable expectations
But it’s definitely not a requirement or all that it’s so often hyped up to be. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that a multivitamin supplement is going to change your life and solve all of your problems.
In terms of vitamin and mineral overdoses, we aren’t too concerned as most multivitamins contain vitamins and minerals in fairly low doses (often too low, to be honest). As long as you stay within the manufacturer’s recommended dosage guidelines and be mindful of any additional supplements or fortified foods that you consume on top of your multivitamin, you should be fine.
If you want some specific and practical guidelines:
1) Real food first, supplements second.
The first rule of supplementing is that you should be making a conscious and consistent effort through your diet first. Supplements are in no way a replacement for a healthy diet.
In fact, many foods contain additional vitamins and minerals that work synergistically with each other – for example, Vitamin D ideally needs Vitamin K as well to be properly absorbed.
Check out the Sleekgeek Food List if you want ideas for some of the healthiest foods that you can easily and immediately start adding to your diet.
You can also look up food sources for vitamins and minerals here.
2) Fix severe deficiencies ASAP.
You look up the symptoms for common nutrient deficiencies here.
If you have reason to believe that you have a severe deficiency then you should get yourself tested at your doctor for conclusive proof.
This will work out much cheaper and safer in the long run than blindly trying one supplement after the next “just in case” or because you have a “hunch”.
If you do end up with a deficiency that you are aware of, then you’re likely better off taking a specific vitamin or mineral supplement that targets that specific deficiency over a broad-spectrum multivitamin.
3) Choose a good multivitamin.
As far as we know, there is no such thing as the perfect multivitamin. Even there was, it wouldn’t be perfect for everyone since we all have unique needs.
But there are a few things that you can do to ensure you have a good multivitamin.
First, choose a multivitamin that contains the right amount of the right nutrients. Some of the most common deficiencies include Iodine, Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin B7, Vitamin E, Chromium, and Molybdenum. You can look up the Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamins and minerals (this is the average daily dietary intake level sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy individuals) to get an idea what you should be aiming for. You can also look up the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels for vitamins and minerals (this is the highest daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects to almost all individuals) to make sure that you aren’t exceeding them.
Second, choose a multivitamin for their actual vitamin and mineral content. Don’t be sold on additional ingredients or extras like herbs and anti-oxidants that are designed to entice you. These are usually available in too small amounts or they will come at a massive premium price (or both). Most multivitamins do some with additional or bonus ingredients, which is fine, just dont’ make your decision based off of them.
Third, choose a multivitamin that is balanced between efficacy (effective dosage / high-quality) and price. If you’re going to be taking a multivitamin for many years to come, you don’t want to get something that is unsustainably expensive, but you also don’t want to get the cheapest of the cheap.
Fourth, choose a multivitamin based on the dosage requirements, what form it comes in, and what’s preferable for you. Some multivitamins require you to take 2 or more servings spread throughout the day (this is actually ideal because some ingredients within multivitamins can compete for absorption, so if you take too much of one or both all at once you may absorb less – but if you KNOW you won’t take it twice a day then you may as well get a once-a-day supplement instead). Some multivitamins may require you to take up to 8 tablets in one go in order to get an effective dose (which many people won’t find pleasant or sustainable – so check the recommended dosage). Lastly, some multivitamins come in different forms like tablets, chewables, powders, liquids, etc (chewables may be great for kids, but generally don’t contain much potency to be worth it for adults, while liquids tend to be the best able to contain sufficient dosage).
Fifth, choose a multivitamin that suits your specific needs. Our nutrient requirements and deficiency risks vary based on certain factors like gender, age, diet, and lifestyle. A highly active 16-year-old girl will have different needs to a sedentary 60-year-old man. Similarly, a pregnant woman will have different needs to a vegan man. A good example of this is that younger women who are premenopausal will most likely want a multivitamin that contains iron, but men or any age or older postmenopausal women will want one that contains no iron at all.
4) Cycle your multivitamin brand.
Unfortunately, the supplement industry is very hit or miss. Not only does the quality of products vary dramatically from one brand to another, but the consistency of that quality can also differ over time.
A solution to this is to hedge your bet by identifying 2-3 brands that you trust or have been recommended and then rotate through them each time you need to replace your product.
For example, you might use Brand A for a month, and then use Brand B for the next month, and then Brand C for the next month before going back to Brand A again.
This strategy may also let you adapt your choices based on your current financial situation, lifestyle, or vitamin and mineral needs.
5) Supplement intermittently.
It’s not often that I get to tell someone to be intentionally inconsistent with a healthy habit!
But, as usual, I lead by example so I can confidently say that this is an acceptable strategy.
Consider supplementing intermittently if you are at all concerned by any of the downsides that I mentioned above or aren’t absolutely convinced that you actually need a multivitamin supplement in the first place.
I don’t mean taking it for 1 day and then skipping for 3 days before remembering to supplement again. No, that won’t serve you well. If you are going to supplement then it is in your best interest to supplement consistently in the short-term so that your daily doses can accumulate for maximum efficacy and so that you can build the habit.
What I do mean is being inconsistent in the long-term by finishing the product that you’ve bought and then taking a break for a month or two before beginning again (perhaps with a different brand as mentioned above). I typically supplement with a multivitamin at the beginning of Winter and then during a known high-stress period, before an upcoming holiday, or simply as needed based on how I’m feeling and any mild deficiencies that I might have identified.
6) Always remember…
Supplements are supplements, not replacements.
They won’t make up for your crappy diet or poor eating habits.
But, it’s also not only one or the other either. You can have a fantastic diet and still choose to supplement if needed as they will work synergistically together to help you achieve your goals.
What do WE recommend?
Before I give you the official Sleekgeek recommendation, I do want to stress that no one must take a multivitamin supplement and there is also no such thing as the perfect multivitamin (even there was, it wouldn’t be perfect for everyone since we all have unique needs).
The “best” brand is more often a matter of opinion and the quality of a particular supplement brand can change fairly regularly.
In fact, Labdoor is an independent company that sends product samples off to an FDA-registered laboratory for detailed chemical analysis. They then grade the products by label accuracy, product purity, nutritional value, ingredient safety, and projected efficacy. What their rankings show us is that every product has significant flaws and many of the ones that you think would do well actually do surprisingly poorly.
So our advice is to abandon the notion of the “perfect” or “ideal” supplement. If you are concerned, rotate through different brands and avoid relying too heavily on one specific one for too long.
Most of the supplement brands that are displayed the most prominently in shops and are their staff’s go-to recommendations tend to be so because that supplement company has paid an enormous amount of money for that service. Don’t confuse marketing budget and product placement with quality.
The most important thing is that you find a supplement that meets your needs. Be sure to check out Sleekgeek’s position and our guidelines for choosing a good product described above.
Turns out, there are actually many different multivitamin supplement brands out there that meet these needs…
So what do Elan and I (Eric) use?
OPTIMUM NUTRITION OPTI-MEN (for men):
This is my (Eric) favourite go-to brand for a multivitamin supplement. They’re a brand that I trust and have used for a long time, but they can be a bit pricy sometimes.
I really like that they have gender-specific products (this one is formulated specifically for men, but they also have an Opti-Women for women).
OR: OPTIMUM NUTRITION OPTI-WOMEN (for women):
There is also an Optimum Nutrition Opti-Women for the ladies (once again, I really like that they have gender-specific products which I think is important when it comes to something like this).
This is Elan’s go-to brand (that I also use as part of my rotation) that he uses occasionally as a very low-level insurance policy against deficiencies. He isn’t too concerned due to his nutrient-dense diet.
SNP’s Multi Vitamin with Minerals is one of the more affordable multivitamin products, making them a good choice for anyone who is looking for a “something is better than nothing” option or aren’t too concerned about nutrient deficiencies.
There is also an SNP Multi Vitamin Sport option for those looking for additional support for their active lifestyle.
This is my (Eric) second favourite go-to brand for a multivitamin supplement that I used as part of my rotation.
Do you take a multivitamin?
Have you used any of these brands?
Or, do you have any other brands that you recommend instead?
I would love to hear in the comments below!
I hope you found this guide helpful, I know it ended up being a lot longer than I intended…
I’ve been putting it off for a long time as I was worried that it would be interpreted in the wrong way. I do not want to encourage people to buy supplements just for the sake of buying supplements. I think it’s important to determine whether or not it is even something that you need at all before making that decision.
Remember, first and foremost eat REAL food, and fix your exercise, sleep, and mindset. That will have the greatest impact on getting the results that you want. Supplements are simply the tip of the iceberg. The cherry on top.
Let me know if you have any other questions for me to answer or angles for me to cover.