How to choose a multivitamin

OK, so you’re at the store looking at the vitamin section. It seems like there are hundreds of multivitamins to choose from. How do you pick one that’s right for you? With so many on the shelf, it can be hard to make a choice. Here are some tips:

  • Read the label. Look for products with no more than 100% Daily Value (DV) for the nutrients list. Be sure it has 400 mcg of folic acid. Don’t expect it to have a lot of calcium as it would make the pill too big to swallow.
  • Check the percentage and avoid high doses. Some vitamins and minerals are toxic at high doses. They can build up over time and you may not notice a problem right away. Also, some can cause problems in your future children if taken in improper amounts while pregnant.
  • Look for USP on the label. This means that your pills have the exact amount of nutrients the label says they have.
  • Store brands and generics can be as good as name brands. Read the label to compare if you are not sure.
  • Avoid the extras. Some vitamins have herbs, enzymes or amino acids in them. These add unneeded cost. If you have questions about herbs, talk to your health care provider.
  • Check the use by or expiration date. Food should be fresh and so should your vitamins.


How do you know that you are buying a pound of butter? What about a pound of apples? You weigh it! Nutrients and medicines come in sizes much too small for us to measure, so the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) organization does it for us. It is the official public standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the-counter medicines, dietary supplements and other healthcare products manufactured and sold in the United States. USP is an independent, science-based public health organization. If you see the USP label on a multivitamin bottle, it means it has been tested and has the amount of nutrients in the pill that the label says it has.

Generic or name brand

A multivitamin should cost only a few pennies a day. You don’t need to buy the name-brand vitamins unless you want to. Generic and store-brand multivitamins are often made by the same manufacturers as the name brands. They simply put different labels on the same bottles and sell them at different prices!

The bare essentials: You can skip time release, high potency, etc.

Money is tight, right? No-frills vitamins are good. Time release, “high potency,” herbal fillers and the like will just cost you a lot more money without gain for your health. Just stick with the standard multivitamins and you’ll be doing your body, and your wallet, a big favor.


Just like people, vitamins age as they get older and aren’t able to do as much as they used to. Check the expiration date on your multivitamin bottle. To get the most benefit from them, use your bottle of multivitamins before it expires.

OK, I have my bottle. Now what?

Revised: May 30, 2011

This web site is designed for informational use only; it is not designed to give advice, diagnose, cure or treat any medical condition you may have. If you have any questions about your health, please contact your health care provider.