Food is the best source of most nutrients, but a multivitamin can help provide what your diet doesn’t. Find out what to look for in a daily multivitamin.

Our bodies need many different vitamins and minerals to function properly. Vitamins and minerals also offer us protection against a host of ailments, including heart disease and some cancers, such as colon and cervical cancer.

The good news is that we can get most of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need daily by choosing the right foods and eating a wide variety of them. Still, many people take a multivitamin daily as an insurance policy just to be sure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals that their bodies require.

“A multivitamin is a good idea for the trace elements,” says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “You want a multivitamin for all those little things at the bottom of the ingredients list. The ones at the top of the list are familiar and the ones we can’t avoid if we’re eating enriched foods. It’s the trace elements at the bottom that are the ones often missing.” Trace elements include chromium, folic acid, potassium, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc.

Daily Vitamin: Our Needs Change With Age

Vitamin supplements can be particularly important during certain stages of our lives, Dr. Novey says. For example, women in their childbearing years can benefit from folic acid, which decreases the risk of some birth defects. A pregnant woman needs a multivitamin, starting in the first trimester, to ensure that the baby receives proper nutrition. Active and older women can benefit from increased calcium, which can help prevent bone loss and fractures. Vegetarians also can benefit from taking extra calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D.

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