The buyer's guide to multivitamins

Everything you need to know about choosing the right multivitamin

The sheer range of vitamins, minerals and supplements that are available today is broader and more varied than ever before. There are multivitamins aimed at all age groups and tailored to various health conditions. Vegetarian and vegan supplements are growing in popularity as are ‘free from’ varieties.

According to market research analysts Mintel, the UK vitamins and supplements market was worth an estimated £436 million in 2017 and looks set to keep growing.

“The vitamins market is well established in the UK and saturated with a considerable number of brands,” says market research provider, Euromonitor International (blog.euromonitor.com). “However, growth is being supported by increasing health-awareness and consumers’ efforts to find ways to prevent medical conditions.”

The trend towards organic

A growing ageing population is also contributing towards the demand for vitamins, according to Euromonitor’s findings, plus the fact that more and more people are exercising and as a result are looking for vitamins to provide extra support for their joints, bones, muscles and general health.

Julie Goodwin, owner of the Natural Health stores in Hertford and Welwyn, has noticed an increasing demand for multivitamins from her customers, as well as a trend towards organic, food-based supplements. She says: “People are becoming increasingly interested in the science behind the synergistic blends of different vitamins and minerals. They are also looking not just for standalone vitamins but combinations. We find that customers are also interested in finding out about the fillers and binders in their vitamins, whether they contain any sugars and whether they are organic or vegan. There is a definite trend towards vegan products. Customers are also interested in where products come from – the ethos behind the company.”

Awareness and education

Thanks to increasing consumer awareness and education, more and more people are realising the health benefits of taking multivitamins.

“I would definitely recommend taking a good multivitamin supplement,” says nutritional therapist Gareth Zeal. “One of the benefits of a multivitamin is that the B3, B6, zinc and magnesium all help with our absorption of fatty acids. Most people are a bit stressed and their digestion is less than perfect, so they will benefit from a bit of extra support. Multivitamins can really help with energy levels and digestion in general.”

Gareth adds: “Children over the age of 11 can take an adult multivitamin. The difference between multivitamins aimed at men and women are that the male multis tend to be lower in iron whereas the female ones are a bit stronger in calcium and magnesium because they can help with PMS and bone density. Both male and female athletes have greater requirements, and they should look for supplements that contain good levels of antioxidants, magnesium and zinc.”

Making the right choice

With such a broad range of supplements to choose from, it can often seem a little confusing or overwhelming. So how do you choose the right one for you? “It can be very tempting to choose your multivitamins according to price, thinking that they are all the same,” says Sarah Flower, author and nutritionist (www.sarahflower.co.uk). “But sadly no, the quality of the supplement, along with the bioavailability (how your body can utilise the supplement) can vary hugely. Minerals, for example, can be particularly troublesome. Magnesium is not the same regardless of where it originates. You can have magnesium oxide as well as magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate, all very different, yet all still magnesium. Magnesium oxide is one of the cheapest forms of magnesium and it is very hard for your body to absorb and utilise. The best is in the form of citrate or glycinate but these are more expensive to produce and therefore increase the price of the supplement. Magnesium is quite poorly absorbed anyway so we really need to opt for the one that has the best bioavailability to ensure we get some benefit. I would recommend most minerals to be in citrate form.”

Sarah continues: “Another example of cheaper quality is with B12. Some multivitamins contain cyancobalamin, but this is a synthetic version of B12 and once again it’s harder for your body to utilise. Opt instead for Methylcobalamin. I would also look at the fillers and bulking agents used in the supplement and if they have added sugars, flavourings and artificial chemicals, again all of which I would avoid.”

Julie Goodwin adds: “When we are advising customers on which multivitamin to choose, we try to find out whether they have a particular health issue that needs addressing. Do they want to just support their health in general? Or are they looking for help with tiredness, sleep problems, hormonal issues or stress? This can help us to point them in the direction of the best supplement for their needs. For example a multivitamin that’s high in B5 will be particularly good for stress.”

Alternative formats

Not only is there a huge choice of brands and types of multivitamins, but there are now increasingly different formats to add in to the mix.

According to Euromonitor: “Consumers are increasingly opting for alternative, convenient and novel delivery formats, as traditional pills are perceived as relatively boring, while gummies, liquids, chewable formats, melts and powders are on the rise. Also, vitamins manufacturers are responding to the growing popularity of vegan and vegetarian diets, as well as the increasing interest in products with free-from claims, by advertising vitamins’ compatibility with these trends on their labels.

The diversification of formats is playing a part in vitamins manufacturers’ efforts to segment their offer according to the specific needs of particular consumers. Chewable formats and gummy bears are appealing to children and can be advertised as a go-to strategy for parents looking to fill nutritional gaps in their children’s diets. Meanwhile, other new formats have similar potential, with melt-in-the-mouth supplements potentially appealing to pregnant women who might have problems with swallowing in the last stage of pregnancy. Companies are expected to work to address some of the drawbacks of these formats, such as the chalky texture that deters some consumers from opting for chewable vitamins. (Similarly, gummy vitamins tend to have added sugar, contain gelatine which is prohibited in vegetarian and vegan diets, generally have less nutrient-carrying capacity than other formats, and can stick in teeth, thereby contributing to tooth decay.) In addition, manufacturers are expected to focus on the use of high-quality ingredients in vitamins, ensuring that they are suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and providing an interesting, attractive format.”

Did you know?

Multivitamins are the more common vitamins, taken by 56 per cent of UK consumers who have taken vitamins, minerals or supplements in the last 12 months, followed by vitamin D (33 per cent) and vitamin C (27 per cent), according to market research analysts Mintel.

According to Mintel, 59 per cent of UK consumers have taken vitamins, minerals or dietary supplements in the last 12 months.

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