Multivitamin vs Individual Vitamins

There’s no polite way to say it, so here goes — most Americans don’t eat nearly as well as they should. Seventy-five percent don’t eat the recommended daily amount of fruit, and 80 percent don’t get enough vegetables. [1

While that doesn’t mean that most people have full-blown nutritional deficiencies, so-called nutrient inadequacies are common. These “pre-deficiencies” happen when people don’t consistently get all the micronutrients essential for a healthy life, but this occasional lack doesn’t yet have a tangible impact.

Often, it’s not that people don’t want to take care of their health. Life gets in the way, and cooking perfectly balanced meals from scratch every single day can be a real drag when you have a busy life. If you’ve committed to taking nutritional supplements, you’ve decided to prioritize looking after your body by giving yourself reliable convenience. 

What supplements are best for you, though, and is it better to take a multivitamin or individual vitamins?

Multivitamin vs Individual Vitamins: The TLDR Version

  • Multivitamins are a convenient, safe, and reliable way to make sure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need every day. 
  • Choosing a multivitamin designed for your needs gives you a more personalized health boost, whether you’re pregnant, an older adult, a man, a woman, or an athlete. 
  • People with specific nutritional deficiencies or those at risk of developing them are often better off taking individual vitamins.
  • If you’re not sure whether to choose a multivitamin or individual vitamins, your doctor can help you make the right choice for your needs. 

Why Consider Taking Multivitamins?

Do you make fresh fruits a regular part of your diet? Do you vary your veggies, opt for whole grains, and make different protein choices every day? Even if you do your very best to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with apps like MyPlate [2], chances are that you’re not always consistent about what you eat. 

As a long day at work turns into a long evening answering emails or doing chores, fast food happens. Nutrient-poor convenience foods like pasta with a commercially prepared sauce low in vegetables become awfully convenient. 

Multivitamin supplements pick up the slack. They ensure that you reach or get very close to the recommended daily intake of all your essential vitamins and minerals. Even when a busy life gets in the way, a daily multivitamin makes sure you never have to develop a deficiency. 

Multivitamin supplements are a handy solution for a wide variety of reasons, and most people who know they need an extra nutrient boost should pick multivitamins when deciding whether to buy a multivitamin or individual vitamins. Here’s why. 

Multivitamin Supplements Support Your General Health

Micronutrients — vitamins and minerals — form the very core of your health and wellbeing. Yet, research has established that many adults in America and beyond don’t get enough. For example, one study that investigated the micronutrients most important for a strong immune system discovered that [3]:

  • 45 percent of Americans don’t get all the vitamin A they need
  • 46 percent have at least mild vitamin C deficiencies
  • A whopping 95 percent have suboptimal levels of vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”
  • 84 percent are deficient in vitamin E
  • 15 percent have zinc deficiencies 

While this definitely doesn’t mean that most people are malnourished, you could say many people are under-nourished. When you often get less than the estimated average requirement of different vitamins and minerals, it won’t necessarily make you sick. However, you’re also not living your best, healthiest life. 

A daily multivitamin supplement can fill in the gaps and ensure your body has everything it needs to thrive — from strong bones to a hardy immune system ready to tackle bacterial and viral invaders. 

Learn more: How Long Does It Take for Vitamins to Work?

Multivitamin Supplements Are Convenient

High-quality multivitamins give you the full range of minerals and vitamins your body needs to stay healthy — all in one convenient tablet. They’re designed to meet all your important micronutrient needs for the day.

When you take multivitamins, you don’t have to worry about dosing or timing individual supplements. You simply follow the instructions on the label every day and know that you’re giving yourself the boost you need. Multivitamins are easy to take, easy to remember to take, and supremely convenient. 

You Can Choose Multivitamin Supplements Designed for Your Needs

Although multivitamin supplements aren’t quite as tailored to your personal needs as individual supplements, you can choose from a wide variety of different multivitamins. Whether you’re a man, woman, older adult, an athlete, or trying to conceive, a multivitamin supplement specifically designed for your nutritional needs already exists. 

That’s pretty handy if you ask us!

Multivitamins Are Usually Enough 

Plenty of people — including doctors and dietitians — argue that you don’t need to take multivitamins to meet all your nutritional needs [4]. It’s perfectly possible to get the essential minerals and vitamins your body needs to be healthy through your regular daily diet, they say, as long as you take a meticulous approach to meal planning. 

They’re not wrong, although that’s not realistic for many of us — at least not all of the time. The point of multivitamin supplements is to take over where you leave off, giving you a health boost to round out your diet in reasonable doses. 

 That part matters because it is possible to “overdose” on some vitamins and minerals. For example:

  • You can feel nauseous, dizzy, and achy if you get too much vitamin A [5].
  • Too much vitamin D can cause nausea, dehydration, muscle pain, thirst, and kidney stones [6]. It is almost always the result of taking too many supplements.
  • Excessive iron intake can lead to stomach upsets, constipation, diarrhea, and vomiting [7].
  • Taking too much zinc can lead to vomiting, headaches, appetite loss, and dizziness [8]. 

For the record, those aren’t even the worst possible outcomes. In other words, you can get too much of a good thing. It is, however, hard to overdose on vitamins and minerals when you take multivitamin supplements strictly as instructed. It’s harder to keep track of things when you take a wide variety of individual vitamin supplements, on the other hand. Multivitamins usually do the job. 

Who Benefits More From Individual Vitamins?

While multivitamins often win out in the battle of individual vitamins vs multivitamin supplements,  there are exceptions. People who have been diagnosed with specific nutritional deficiencies require individual vitamins as treatment. Likewise, groups of people at risk of developing specific deficiencies benefit from individual vitamins if they otherwise have an extremely healthy and balanced diet. 

Ready to look at some examples?

Folic Acid if You Are Pregnant or Trying to Conceive 

Folic acid (the synthetic version of naturally occurring folate) is a B vitamin that’s essential for DNA, cell division, and genetic material. Research has long shown that getting sufficient amounts of folic acid plays an absolutely crucial role in preventing neural tube disorders like spina bifida in growing fetuses. 

That’s why pregnant women and those who are trying to conceive are advised to take 600 mcg a day through supplementation. [9] Multivitamins don’t necessarily get you there, and individual vitamins ensure that your baby gets everything it needs. 

Vitamin D for Groups at Risk of a Deficiency 

Vitamin D is critical for strong bones, healthy teeth, a properly functioning nervous system, and a robust immune system. Although it’s known as the sunshine vitamin because your skin makes it upon exposure to UVB rays, not everyone gets enough. 

Doctors advise parents to give vitamin D supplements to breastfed babies because breast milk doesn’t have enough to meet a baby’s daily needs. While sunscreen protects a baby’s gentle skin, it also stops the production of vitamin D in its tracks. 

People who don’t go outside very often and older adults at risk of osteoporosis are also often advised to take individual vitamin D supplements, sometimes in combination with vitamin A. That’s true even for people who spend a lot of time outside, because your body’s ability to make vitamin D decreases with age. [6]

Learn more: Can You Get Vitamin D Through a Window?

Calcium for Postmenopausal Women

Postmenopausal women (of any age, because menopause can arrive early, too) have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. This bone density loss condition leaves people vulnerable to frequent bone fractures. Do you fall into this group? Calcium and vitamin D supplements will help to keep your bones strong and healthy — so that you can continue enjoying an active life. [9]

Learn more: Vitamin C VS Calcium: Are They The Same?

People with Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron is necessary for healthy red blood cells. When you don’t get enough, you can eventually develop iron deficiency anemia. Your red blood cells become smaller and less effective when you have anemia, and all of your cells receive less oxygen. This can cause feelings of weakness, dizziness, fatigue, and memory. 

Unfortunately, this nutritional deficiency isn’t uncommon. Iron supplements are the fastest way to remedy anemia caused by iron deficiency and get you back on the right track. [7]

Multivitamin vs Individual Vitamins: What’s Better for You?

We can’t answer that question for you — but your doctor can! You don’t have to make the decision  on whether a multivitamin or individual vitamins make more sense in your specific situation alone. That’s just as well, because the choice can sometimes be tricky. The right answer depends on a multitude of different factors, including:

  • Your diet — including specific requirements related to being vegan, vegetarian, or having a food intolerance. 
  • Your age. As time passes, your nutritional requirements change, and supplements can make sure older adults continue to meet their daily recommended intakes. [10]
  • Your lifestyle, which can include things like frequent business trips abroad, night shifts, or being an athlete. It can also include living in a region with little sunlight or access to a wide range of fresh produce. 
  • Your health profile, including conditions that interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. 

Setting up an appointment with your doctor to talk about nutritional supplements has two advantages. First, you get to pick the brain of someone who really understands this stuff — but also, your doctor understands you and your needs. That’s something no informative article or consumer guide on the internet can claim to do! 

Where necessary, your doctor may recommend having you tested for nutritional deficiencies to give you the best advice possible. This extra step takes the process in a completely personalized, scientific direction. 

Can Vitamin Supplements Be a Reasonable Substitute for a Healthy Diet?

No, never! (OK, maybe if you’re stuck on Mars with nothing but breakfast bars or something, but you get the point.) Whether you choose a multivitamin or individual vitamins, you should always see nutritional supplements as the little extra that boosts your health when you don’t quite get enough through your daily diet. 

Fresh fruits, an exciting range of vegetables, lots of whole grains, delicious lean proteins, and healthy fats should always form the foundation of a health-conscious life. It is absolutely possible to meet all your nutritional needs through your diet alone in most cases (certain health conditions excepted), and wherever that’s at all realistic, that’s what you should aim for. 

The reality is that we can’t always do that — for many different reasons. Vitamin supplements can lend a helping hand in this case, but your diet should still be the backbone of your approach to nutrition. 

Multivitamin or Individual Vitamins: Which One Wins?

Neither, as such. The average person who eats a fairly healthy diet but isn’t completely sure that they get all the micronutrients they need every day should typically choose a high-quality organic multivitamin supplement(instead of synthetic based). People with specific health needs or diagnosed deficiencies benefit more from a targeted individual vitamin. 

Regardless of whether you choose a multivitamin vs individual vitamins, it is crucial to ensure you get the right dose. Follow package instructions when taking a multivitamin, or strictly stick to your doctor’s orders if you have them.