Here’s everything you need to know about these wellness multitaskers – & what to bear in mind when choosing one to suit your health goals

If you had a snoop inside the bathroom cabinets of the UK population, you might find one product that claims to do a multitude of things: a multivitamin. With the vitamins and supplements market estimated at £520 million (in 2022) and up 17% since 2017, it’s no surprise the convenience factor they offer can be very appealing to those of us looking for a bit of additional support to help meet our nutritional needs.

But what are these little multitasking tablets, chews, liquids and sprays? We ask Boots nutritionist, Vicky Pennington, to answer some of your most-searched questions and to walk us through when it might be helpful to incorporate a multivitamin into our daily routine, and the factors to bear in mind when shopping for one.

What are multivitamins?

In a nutshell: multivitamins are supplements that contain a brand-specific combination of vitamins and (usually) minerals, designed to help support our daily nutritional requirements, health and wellbeing in a range of different ways.

Can multivitamins work if you have a poor diet?

It’s worth noting from the get-go that supplements aren’t a substitute for eating a healthy, balanced diet (except for vitamin D, which is made when our skin is exposed to direct sunshine when outdoors). But while in an ideal world, we’d all be getting our quota of essential nutrients primarily from our food every day, there are of course times when our diet may fall short.

“It’s been estimated that less than 1% of the population meets all current dietary guidelines and only about 30% are meeting five or more of the nine specific recommendations in the Eatwell Guide [a guide formulated by Public Health England that outlines the recommendations for eating a healthy balanced diet],” explains Vicky.

“Data from the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) shows a substantial proportion of the population have vitamin and mineral intakes below recommended levels.”

Multivitamins can therefore provide an option to help maintain health or bridge gaps in nutrition when our diet isn’t as balanced as it could be. Or perhaps when we or our family are going through circumstances or life changes that put us or them at risk of nutrient deficiency (such as a lack of iron*, pregnancy and ageing in older adults).

As in all areas though, we can get too much of a good thing. “While multivitamins can help us get our daily recommendations of nutrients, anything beyond that can be surplus to requirements and may even be detrimental to our health,” warns Vicky.

Taking too much of a vitamin or mineral can be dangerous and is not recommended. To help you to choose what’s right for you, check the label and seek advice from a pharmacist, GP or healthcare professional before combining different supplements and medications.

Daily multivitamins provide a wide range of different vitamins and minerals in a convenient, one-a-day format.

What are the benefits of taking multivitamins vs single vitamins?

One word: convenience. “Single vitamins and minerals are targeted to meet specific individual goals, such as healthy bones or address a risk of nutrient deficiency, such as vitamin D supplementation,” begins Vicky.

“Instead, daily multivitamins provide a wide range of different vitamins and minerals in a convenient, one-a-day format.”

How do multivitamins work?

As a starting point, it can be helpful to take a closer look at vitamins and minerals generally, the role they play in supporting a range of essential bodily processes and why some may need topping up more than others..

“Vitamins are micronutrients the body needs in small amounts to work properly and stay healthy,” Vicky begins.

“The body is unable to produce most vitamins itself (exceptions include vitamin D, among others), so you normally get them through healthy food. Nutritionists often divide vitamins into two groups.” These are:

• Water-soluble vitamins: these aren’t stored in the body and any excess is excreted when passing urine. This means foods containing water-soluble vitamins need to be consumed frequently. Water-soluble vitamins include the B group vitamins and vitamin C, which can be found in fruit, vegetables, grains and pulses.

• Fat-soluble vitamins: the body can store these in the liver and fatty tissues until they’re needed. This means they can build up in the body, so having too much can be harmful. Fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K and are found mainly in foods that are high in natural fat, such as oily fish and eggs.

Minerals are a second type of micronutrient. “There are two groups of minerals: major and trace minerals,” explains Vicky. “The body needs a balance of minerals from both groups for optimal health.”

Vicky breaks each group down for us:

• Major minerals include magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium. These help the body balance water levels, maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails, and support bone health.

• Trace minerals are required in smaller amounts and include iron, selenium, zinc, copper and fluoride. Trace minerals help maintain healthy bones, help to prevent tooth decay, aid in blood clotting and help to distribute oxygen.

Do you need a multivitamin?

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recommends vitamin supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of nutrient deficiency. If any of these apply to you or a loved one, Vicky suggests choosing a multivitamin that provides the recommended levels. These include:

Folic acid in pregnancy

“Women who are pregnant, or trying for a baby, are recommended to take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day until they’re 12 weeks pregnant.

“Start taking a folic acid supplement before you stop using contraception or if there’s a chance you might get pregnant,” suggests Vicky.

Vitamin D for everyone

“This important vitamin is mainly made in the body, when the skin is exposed to sunlight. But during the autumn and winter in the UK, there’s not enough sunlight for the body to produce sufficient vitamin D,” Vicky explains.

“For this reason, everyone should consider taking a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter months.”

Vitamins A, C & D for babies & young children

“Children aged six months to five years should take supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day,” Vicky advises.

Other groups are advised to take a supplement every day of the year, says Vicky:

• “Breastfed babies should be given 8.5-10mcg of vitamin D daily, from birth. But babies that have 500mls or more of formula a day don’t need a supplement because infant formula is fortified with vitamin D.

• All children one to four years of age should be given a daily supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D.

• People who are not often exposed to the sun should take a daily supplement of 10mcg of vitamin D, e.g. housebound people, those in a care home or those who wear clothes that cover most of their skin when outdoors.”

Can taking a multivitamin break your fast (if you're fasting)?

“Taking a multivitamin is a good idea when fasting because you'll be missing your daily vitamins and minerals provided by food and it's important to replace these,” says Vicky.

“Certainly, frequent fasting could lead to nutrient deficiencies if you’re already low in vitamins and minerals or have a restricted range of foods in your diet.

“It’s important to know which supplements could break your fast though. Some types of supplements, such as multivitamin gummies, can contain small amounts of ingredients with calories from sugars. In this case, it's advisable to check the ingredients label and seek further advice to see if the supplement is compatible with your needs.”

How to choose a multivitamin

“Multivitamins are tailored to meet the changing nutritional needs of different ages and life stages,” says Vicky.

As a starting point, Vicky recommends below the types of multivitamins suitable for:

• Babies, children, teenagers and the over 50s

• Multivitamins that support the differing needs of men and women (iron requirements for pre-menopausal women are higher than for men, for example)

• Preconception, pregnancy and menopause

• Nutrients that may be in short supply due to diet and lifestyle choices (for example, gluten-free or when adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet). Always check the label for claims and allergen information (allergens can be found listed in bold).

It can also be a good idea to consider the format that feels right for you. “Boots offer a range of different formats including tablets, chewable tablets, effervescent tablets, capsules, softies, gummies and liquids (such as drops for babies, powders and oral sprays),” explains Vicky.

“People may also have specific dietary preferences, such as whether they’re vegetarian or vegan, dosage levels such as high strength, along with other personal preferences for ease of swallowing, size and flavour.”

As multivitamins can vary so widely, reading the labels can provide a useful source of information when it comes to considering whether something is suitable for you.

“When choosing multivitamins, it’s helpful to check out the NRVs (nutrient reference values). These are a guide to the daily amount of a vitamin or mineral that the average healthy person needs to prevent nutrient deficiency,” says Vicky.

“Multivitamin labels usually give the proportion of the NRV value (% NRV) that is contained within the supplement. For example, for vitamin C, 80mg is 100% NRV.

“It’s important to note though that requirements may be different for children and pregnant or breastfeeding women,” she warns.

Consult a GP, pharmacist or healthcare professional before taking supplements if you’re pregnant, have a medical condition or are taking other medication.

Need a helping hand? Find out which vitamins may be suitable for you by taking our free vitamin quiz for vitamin and supplement recommendations personalised to you.

Which vitamins are right for you?

Take the quiz
Multivitamins to consider
Boots Everyday Vitamins

• Size: 240 tablets

• Suitable for adults and children aged 12 years and over

• Suitable for a vegetarian diet

Keeping it simple is key when it comes to our health and nutrition goals. Suitable for adults and children aged 12 years and over, including vegetarians, these tablets contain a blend of 13 vitamins – including vitamins D and C to help support healthy bones and vitamin B12 to help support the nervous system and maintain energy levels.

Boots 3 years plus A-Z Multivitamin + Minerals

• Contains 30 chewable tablets

• Contain the recommended amount of vitamin D, 10mg

• Suitable for adults and children aged three years and over

• Suitable for vegan diets

Containing 30 chewable vitamins and minerals, these strawberry and vanilla chewies are ideal for little mouths. The blend of nutrients includes vitamin A to help support normal vision, vitamin C to support a healthy immune system and vitamin D plus calcium for healthy growth and development of bones and teeth.

Centrum Women 50+ Multivitamins & Minerals

• Contains 30 tablets

• Suitable for adult women aged over 50

Among this multivitamin’s list of nutrients, you’ll find B vitamins to help support energy levels, vitamin C to support immunity, zinc to aid cognitive function and calcium to support bone health in those over 50.

Vitabiotics Pregnacare Max

• Contains 84 tablets

Formulated by experts to help support nutritional requirements during pregnancy, each tablet includes 400 micrograms of folic acid, a daily intake of 10 micrograms of vitamin D and calcium to help contribute to healthy bones (among other vitamins and minerals).

BetterYou Daily MultiVit Daily Oral Spray

• Size: 25ml

• Suitable for adults and children aged 13 years and over

• Suitable for vegetarian diets

Not a fan of swallowing tablets? No problem. There’s a pill-free alternative – and all you have to do is spray it on the inside of your cheek. This blackcurrant and plum flavour oral spray contains 14 vitamins and minerals, ranging from vitamin B2 and B12 to support energy levels, to vitamin D, selenium and vitamin C to support the normal function of the immune system.

Boots Vegan A-Z Wellness Formula

• Contains 60 tablets

• Suitable for adults and children over 12

• Suitable for vegan diets

Following a vegan diet? It could be a good idea to consider a multivitamin to help provide certain nutrients that may be harder to get from a plant-based diet alone. This multivitamin and mineral supplement contains iron to help reduce tiredness and fatigue and vitamin B12 to support cognitive function and energy levels, as well as other key nutrients.

Looking for further vitamin advice? Check out our guide to supplementing a vegan or vegetarian diet for more top tips. 

*Very high doses of iron can be fatal. Always keep any iron supplements out of the reach of children.