Perhaps you recall your mother nagging you about taking your multivitamins when you were a kid. Now that you're become older, wiser, and a little more health-conscious, you may find yourself wondering: was she right?

Unfortunately, I don't have a clear-cut answer for you. Different nutritionists say very different things about multivitamins, with some experts claiming that they are essential for good health and others brushing them off as a mere marketing scam.

The research itself is also somewhat conflicting. For example, one study found no reductions in the risk of heart disease or mortality among multivitamin users. Another study even found that multivitamin use was associated with a higher mortality rate among older women. In contrast, other research found that a daily multivitamin lowered patient's risks of strokes, certain cancers, and cataracts.

However, what nutritionists do pretty definitively agree on is that you cannot use supplements to "make up for" a bad diet. For one thing, multivitamins lack the fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants that are found in natural healthy foods. Living on products high in problematic ingredients like fat, salt, and refined sugar is also going to have horrific consequences on your health and weight whether you're taking a vitamin or not.

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There, are, however, some convincing reasons that taking a multivitamin is a good idea. For one thing, water soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body, so you should ideally consume them almost every day, which is difficult to do on even the healthiest diet! The nutrient content of food also isn't entirely predictable, and can be greatly altered by processing and cooking.

Additionally, anti-nutrients could interfere with your absorption of certain nutrients if your diet includes a lot of plant foods, and if you're a full vegan or vegetarian, your risk of certain deficiencies may be even higher. Since aging can make it more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients and will magnify the effects of any vitamin deficiencies, it may also be a particularly good idea to take a multivitamin if you are over 50.

Other groups who may get a particular benefit from a multivitamin include picky eaters who don't eat an appropriately varied diet and people with certain health conditions. Not getting enough sunlight or having darker colored skin may also put you at increased risk of becoming deficient in Vitamin D, and if you can't stomach seafood, you may want to look into an omega-3 supplement.

Taking a vitamin is also especially important if you're pregnant, or trying to conceive, since pregnant women need higher levels of nutrients like folic acid and iron even very early during the course of their pregnancy. Thus, keeping your levels of these important nutrients high could lower your baby's risk of certain health conditions and being born prematurely.

Ensuring adequate vitamin intake is also important because many nutrients work synergistically. For example, calcium can only fulfill all of its proper biological functions if you also have adequate levels of vitamins D, so even a few missing nutrients could create a snowball effect of ill health.

Symptoms of vitamin deficiency include brain fog, fatigue, brittle nails, odd cravings, insomnia, constipation, and muscle cramps. If you're worried that you could be deficient in any specific nutrients, you could start tracking your daily intake of the vitamin in question, or talk to your doctor about taking a formal test.

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With so many multivitamins out there, though, which ones should you pick? For one thing, stay away from gummy vitamins, which usually come with unnecessary sugar and other worrisome artificial ingredients. You should also avoid unusually expensive varieties of multivitamins, since they're unlikely to have any real benefits over cheaper ones.

Products that have too many vitamins can also be outright dangerous, since these "mega-doses" have been associated with symptoms including kidney stones (Vitamin C), increased cancer risk (vitamins A and E), heart failure (vitamin E), bone problems (Vitamin A), and nerve pain and seizures (Vitamin B6). Finally, Americans should try to pick products that are USP (United States Pharmacopeia) certified if they're looking for the safest and highest quality products.

We recommend taking a multivitamin while on the 123Diet primarily because, as healthy of a diet as it is, it's also a fairly limited diet, so there are probably nutrients you're missing out on on our meal plan even if you're doing everything right. Additionally, if you've been eating an unhealthy diet for a long time before starting 123, it might take you a while to replenish your stores of all the vitamins and minerals that you've been missing out on.

However, since the research linking better nutrition with better health is a lot clearer than anything that's been found out about supplemental vitamins, if you're only going to choose one or the other, a healthy diet is for sure the way to go.
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