In an ideal world, we'd consume all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other nourishing compounds from eating a daily intake of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and fermented foods. However, for as long as we have surveyed the American diet, it’s clear that most Americans are far from eating the recommended levels of key nutrients.
For example, in 2021 over 90 percent of Americans did not eat the recommended two or more fruits and three or more vegetables daily. And this number is trending in the wrong direction.1 There are parts of the country and certain sub-populations where fresh fruit and vegetable intake is almost zero. This helps explain why millions of people fall short of the recommended intakes of essential vitamins and minerals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans identifies common nutrient shortfalls including vitamins A, D, E, and C, as well as the minerals magnesium and calcium. This is particularly concerning, as calcium and vitamin D are considered nutrients of public health concern because low intakes are directly linked to negative health outcomes.2
It is important to ensure access to healthy food for all Americans, but real-world challenges like access to fresh produce, cost of nutrient dense foods, lack of cooking knowledge and/or time to cook continue to be barriers to improving the overall nutrient intake for Americans. That is where multivitamins come in – as a way to ensure that you are getting your essential nutrients daily.
The good news is we know that taking a multivitamin can fill nutrient gaps. In fact, several studies demonstrate that supplements can provide nutrients that may be missing from diets. For example, one study showed that supplements use decreased the prevalence of inadequate mineral intake in adults.3 And another study showed that, in children and teenagers, supplements added nutrients for which intakes would have been inadequate from food alone.4
There is no disputing that a daily multivitamin is a good way to avoid the common nutritional gaps that most Americans face. So why do skeptics still question the importance of taking a daily multivitamin? It may be because some people expect a simple multivitamin to prevent or treat serious disease. But the evidence is mixed. For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reviewed the totality of the science and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to recommend for or against the use of multivitamins for prevention of cancer and heart disease.5 However, the largest clinical trial reviewed by the USPSTF to reach this conclusion, The Physicians Health Study II, studied 14,641 male physicians and demonstrated a modest, but statistically significant reduced risk of cancer.6 While these studies show promise there are other studies that have shown that multivitamins have no effect in reducing the risk of serious diseases.
While dietary supplements cannot claim to prevent, treat, or cure any diseases, we’re confident that a multivitamin is a solid strategy for healthy self-care for anyone that eats a less than a perfect diet.
1. America's Health Rankings analysis of CDC, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United Health Foundation, AmericasHealthRankings.org, Accessed 2022
2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025
3. Bailey RL, et al. Dietary supplement use is associated with higher intakes of minerals from food sources. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94:1376-81
4. Bailey RL, et al. Do dietary supplements improve micronutrient sufficiency in children and adolescents? J Pediatr. 2012;161:837-42
5. Draft Recommendation: Vitamin, Mineral, and Multivitamin Supplementation to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer | United States Preventive Services Taskforce. May 4, 2021. https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/draft-recommendation/vitamin-supplementation-to-prevent-cvd-and-cancer-preventive-medication#fullrecommendationstart
6. Gaziano JM, et al. Multivitamins in the prevention of cancer in men: the Physicians' Health Study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2012;308:1871-80