Multi vs Targeted Vitamins

What’s the Difference?

We are all looking for supplements that will improve our overall health, but with the huge number of options available on the market, you may wonder if you can cover all of your bases with a multivitamin or if you need to explore individual – also known as “targeted” – vitamins. Most nutritionists advocate use of multivitamin for everyone, because very few people hit all of their nutritional needs through diet alone. However, if you are deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, you may choose to take a targeted vitamin in addition to your multivitamin. If you are experiencing any unpleasant symptoms that could be indicative of a vitamin deficiency, like hair loss, brittle nails, skin rashes or fatigue, consult your healthcare professional. “It is best to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist to determine which vitamins and/or minerals you may not be consuming enough of,” says Kroger culinary dietitian Ashley Martinez, MFN, RDN, LD, NASM-CPT. “This would be done through a dietary assessment so the nutrition professional could analyze exactly what you are eating.” 

What is a Multivitamin?

A multivitamin is a blend of vitamins, dietary minerals and other nutrients that may come in tablet, capsule, gummy, powder, liquid or other forms, with a specific blend of nutrients to benefit men and women. The primary role of a multivitamin as a supplement is to fill nutritional gaps in our diets to ensure we consume the proper amounts of nutrients, especially those that are hard to get through food, like zinc (found in oysters and cashews), magnesium (found in spinach, pumpkin seeds and avocado) and iron (found primarily in red meat).

Who Can Benefit from Taking a Multivitamin?

The short answer? Everyone. Why? Because it’s very difficult to take in the appropriate amounts of all vitamins and minerals each day through diet alone, especially if you – or your child - are a picky eater, or if you’re on a restrictive diet that eliminates certain types of foods. A 2017 survey published in the journal Pediatrics reported that many American children go days without eating vegetables, and are more likely to consume French fries than green vegetables on any given day. And according to the CDC, fewer than 10% of American adults eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

For some perspective, the Reference Daily Intake set by the Food and Drug Administration for a 2 to 3-year-old child is 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables per day. A 4 to 8-year-old should consume 1.5 cups of each. A 9 to 13-year-old should consume 1.5 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables, with an increase to 2.5 cups of veggies for boys. Finally, the RDI of fruits and vegetables for adults is a combined 6 cups, or around 800 grams. Keep in mind that the RDI is a minimum requirement to prevent disease, and that most Americans – of all ages - fall short of both the RDI and what is needed for optimal health.

What is a Targeted, or Individual, Vitamin?

Unlike a multivitamin that is a blend of different vitamins, minerals and nutrients, targeted vitamins contain only one nutritional component. They are used to “target” specific vitamin deficiencies or address increased needs.

Most Commonly Beneficial Targeted Vitamins
Vitamin D: Vitamin D promotes healthy bones and teeth, supports immune, nervous and cardiovascular system function and can even regulate mood and reduce depression. It is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because 50 to 90% of the vitamin D in our bodies is produced from exposure to sunlight. However, with more and more people working indoors, avoiding the sun or wearing sunblock to ward off skin cancers, vitamin D deficiency has reached epidemic status worldwide. Over 41% of Americans are deficient, with numbers increasing to 69% in Hispanics and 82% in African Americans.

Omega 3: Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to the structure of the walls of our cells, making them essential for all of our body processes. They are also known to be powerful anti-inflammatories. While there is no set recommended daily dosage for EPA or DHA, the two key Omega 3 fatty acids nutritionists recommend between 250 and 500 mg of the two combined and up to 3,000 mg per day is considered safe. However, you likely won’t reach proper levels unless you are eating at least two eight-ounce portions of cold water, fatty, oily fish per week; think herring, tuna, sardines and mackerel. If not, a targeted supplement might be right for you.

Folate: Folic acid is a B vitamin used by our bodies to create new cells. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all women between the ages of 15 and 45 who could become pregnant consume 400 milligrams of folic acid each day to prevent major birth defects of the brain or spine. Because many American women fall short of this goal, a targeted vitamin could be beneficial.

B12: Vitamin B12 is essential to the formation of red blood cells, cell metabolism and nerve function. Left untreated, a B12 deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, muscle weakness, nerve damage, intestinal problems and mood disturbances. While most Americans get enough vitamin B12 from mean, poultry, fish and dairy products in their diets, older adults, vegetarians and vegans often have difficulty reaching the recommended daily intake of 2.4 micrograms and may benefit from a targeted vitamin.

Magnesium: Every cell in the body contains magnesium and needs it to function, yet nearly 50% of Americans fail to get enough magnesium in their everyday diets. The recommended daily intake of magnesium is 420 milligrams for men and 320 milligrams for women, but because most of us only absorb 30 to 40% of the magnesium we consume, optimal intake may be even higher than the RDI. However, the best natural food sources of magnesium – like pumpkin seeds, spinach, avocado and quinoa – are just not foods most people eat in large quantities, so a supplement is a good alternative.

Calcium: Early in life, women deposit calcium into their bones. When they reach their 30s, they reach peak bone mass and begin to draw calcium from their bones, which weakens them, so consuming enough calcium at all ages is critical to maximize the amount of calcium you put in when you’re younger and then avoid depleting it later. It is also important to start calcium supplementation during child-bearing years because pregnancy can weaken the bones. The recommended daily intake of calcium for women aged 19 to 50 is 1000 milligrams, but the RDI increases to 1300 milligrams for those over age 51. Get calcium from dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese, and in dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale, or consider a supplement.

Avoiding Upper Limits

Consuming more than the upper limit of certain vitamins can lead to toxicities. This is most common with fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, which are stored by the body, rather than eliminated like water-soluble vitamins like C or B. “It is important to take a look daily value percentage of vitamins and minerals in the products your are consuming,” Martinez says. “A registered dietitian nutritionist can guide individuals to consume adequate amounts.” Martinez points out that too much Vitamin A may cause headaches and liver damage, may reduce bone strength and may cause birth defects, according to the National Institutes of Health, while excess iron may cause nausea, vomiting or liver damage.