After we've figured out what foods a human being needs to be able to express health, then and only then do we look at supplementation. Supplementation is "supplementing" the diet, it does not take its place. I cannot express this enough: taking a multivitamin with a crappy diet is practically useless. We have to remember that vitamins are a product of nature, pointed out by man. We are still discovering new vitamins! So chances are that if you get all your nutrition from a vitamin shake, that you'll be missing some very important nutrients that we don't know about yet. Play it safe, eat good food first.
The sad thing is that nutrient levels in our foods seemed to have decreased, so supplementing with a multivitamin is probably not a bad idea.
So what do we look for in a multivitamin?
- Third party testing. There is little to no oversight over vitamins, as there are with pharmaceuticals. Therefore, it's easy to make bold claims on a label, and then fill a bottle with nothing but soy, corn, cosmetic colors, and other nasty stuff. Find something that holds up to 3rd party testing that shows that what's actually in the bottle is in the bottle. A couple of organizations that are doing this testing is:
United States Pharmacopeia - has it seal of approval with the Dietary Supplement Verification Program. This isn't the most rigid test, but it's still something.
ConsumerLabs.com - This is a great one, but it has a cost: $2.25/month. It's the only way they are able to fund the testing, which takes cash. So for the price of one RedBull you can have great information on which products have passed the test, and which are garbage. It's an investment which will save you money in the long run (buy one bottle of garbage multivitamin and you've paid for the subscription for almost a year).
- No fillers. Soy. Titanium color additives. Corn?! If you read this on the label, this is code language for a filler. While I'm on the subject, Centrum, the number one selling multivitamin, is junk, in my humble opinion. Magnesium stearate is a particularly nasty filler that is a trans fat, avoid it like poison (because it really is). I believe eating junk vitamins like this is the reason why one study found an increase in mortality rates in those that were taking vitamins, opposed to those that didn't.
- Whole food supplement. Vitamins are lonely molecules that don't work well without their co-factors - the extra packaging that comes with the vitamin that makes it do its job. Nutrients in whole foods work synergistically to get the job done. When available, always opt for the whole food vitamin over the singular vitamin.