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While a one-a-day multiple vitamin/mineral may appear convenient, it is not likely to provide all necessary nutrients at optimal amounts. A complete multiple vitamin/mineral formula requires a daily intake of several tablets/capsules because useful amounts of all the important nutrients cannot fit into fewer pills. For example, an appropriate supplemental amount of calcium for some people may be 800 mg per day, an amount that alone requires several tablets or capsules. In general, about six tablets or capsules are required to fit all that is in the one-per-day plus 800–1,000 mg of calcium, 350–500 mg of magnesium, and reasonable amounts of vitamin C (300–1,000 mg) and vitamin E (400 IU). With two to six per day multiples, intake of pills should be spread out over the day instead of taking them all at one sitting.
Multis are available as a powder inside a hard-shell pull-apart capsule, as a liquid inside a soft-gelatin capsule, or as a tablet. Most multis have all the ingredients mixed together. Sometimes the B vitamins react with the rest of the ingredients in the capsule or tablet. This reaction is sped up in the presence of moisture or heat and can cause the B vitamins to “bleed” through the tablet or capsule, discoloring it and also making the multi smell. While the multi is still safe and effective, the smell can be off-putting and usually not well tolerated. Liquid multis in a soft-gel capsule—or tablets or capsules that are kept dry and cool—don’t have this problem. In addition, some people find capsules easier to swallow—capsules are often smaller than tablets.
Some people prefer vegetarian multivitamin/mineral supplements, which are easy to find in tableted products. While some capsules are made from vegetarian sources, most come from animal gelatin. Vegetarians need to carefully read the label to ensure they are getting a vegetarian product.
Some people are concerned that tablets may not adequately break down after they are swallowed. While this is an occasional problem, particularly with supplements containing certain calcium compounds, properly made tablets and capsules will both dissolve readily in the stomach.
Some multis are in timed-release form. In theory, releasing vitamins and minerals slowly into the body over a period of time should be better than releasing all the nutrients at once. Except for studies with vitamin C—some of which do show timed-release C to be better absorbed than non-timed-release—research on this question has not yet resolved the issue. With improper formulation, timed-release supplements could release too slowly for optimal absorption and as a result could possibly have inferior absorption to other products. To date, there is no clear answer to the question “are timed-release multi’s usually better (or worse) than regular multis?”
Unfortunately, multis do not taste good. In order to make chewable multis palatable, some compromises must be made. First, bad-tasting ingredients (including important vitamins and minerals) must be reduced or eliminated. Second, the rest of the ingredients must be masked with a sweetener.
Unless an artificial sweetener such as aspartame (Nutri-Sweet®) or saccharine is used, the only sweeteners available are sugars. Most sugary sweeteners cause tooth decay, including table sugar, fructose, and honey. However, xylitol, a natural sugar rarely used in chewables (due to its cost), does not cause tooth decay or other known sweetener-related problems.
Some chewables, such as vitamin C, contain more sugar than any other ingredient. While these products should list the sweetener as the first ingredient, they often don’t. Labels should be read carefully. If it tastes sweet, it contains sugar or a synthetic sweetener.