Food is Best Source for Your Vitamin Needs (Most of the Time)

Next time you have an urge to pop some vitamin pills, consider the evidence: You are probably wasting your money and doing nothing beneficial for your health.

And remember this: For most people, eating wholesome food — and it doesn’t take that much — is the most cost-effective and healthiest way to get your vitamin needs met.

The latest study in a series on vitamin trends, published in JAMA, showed that the percentage of U.S. adults using dietary supplements remained stable at 52 percent. However the popularity of multivitamins waned a bit in the latest two-year study period, 2011-2012. The percentage of people taking a multivitamin dropped to 31 percent from the 37 percent who reported multivitamin use in 1999-2000.

Experts Don’t Recommend Multivitamins

In 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force decided not to recommend the use of multivitamins and minerals to prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer for people without nutritional deficiencies. This recommendation from the independent group of doctors came after numerous studies failed to show health benefits from taking vitamin and mineral supplements.

Even so, millions of Americans spend more than $30 billion a year, according to the Journal of Nutrition, in the hopes that supplements will keep them healthy, relieve an ache or pain, and even prevent or cure prevent disease.

The ongoing study, conducted by an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, found that the use of vitamin D increased to 19 percent from 5 percent, and the use of fish oil supplements increased to 12 percent from 1 percent. Other individual supplements declined somewhat in popularity, including vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium.

The no-supplement recommendation pertains to generally healthy people. People with certain illnesses or nutritional deficiencies, including those with bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or weight-loss surgery patients, do need to take vitamin supplements to ensure they are getting the minimal amount of vitamins and minerals for their body to function properly. Pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant are urged to take a folic acid supplement because studies have shown that its abundant use reduces birth defects, especially those involving the neural tube, which develops into the central nervous system. Breast-feeding women also have additional vitamin needs.

The following is a chart compiled by WebMD of the recommended daily/dietary allowance (RDA) or adequate intake (AI) of vitamins and minerals for adults, as well as the upper tolerable limit (UL), or the amount you can take without risking your health.

or Mineral
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Adequate Intake (AI)
Nutrients with AIs are marked with an (*)
Upper Tolerable Limit (UL)
The highest amount you can take without risk
Not determined.
20 mg/day
  • Age 1-3: 700 mg/day
  • Age 4-8: 1,000 mg/day
  • Age 9-18: 1,300 mg/day
  • Age 19-50: 1,000 mg/day
  • Women age 51+: 1,200 mg/day
  • Men age 71+: 1,200 mg/day
  • Age19-50: 2,500 mg/day
  • Age 51 and up:2,000 mg/day
  • Age 19-50: 2,300 mg/day
  • Age 50-70: 2,000 mg/day
  • Age 70 and older: 1,800 mg/day
3,600 mg/day
(Vitamin B complex)
  • Age 70 and older: 1,800 mg/day
  • Women: 425 mg/day *
3,500 mg/day

900 micrograms/day

10,000 micrograms/day
  • Men: 4 mg/day *
  • Women: 3 mg/day *
10 mg/day
Folic Acid (Folate)

400 micrograms/day

1,000 micrograms/day

This applies only to synthetic folic acid in supplements or fortified foods. There is no upper limit for folic acid from natural sources.


150 micrograms/day

1,100 micrograms/day
  • Men: 8 mg/day
  • Women age 19-50: 18 mg/day
  • Women age 51 and up: 8 mg/day
45 mg/day
  • Men age 19-30: 400 mg/day
  • Men age 31 and up: 420 mg/day
  • Women age 19-30: 310 mg/day
  • Women age 31 and up: 320 mg/day

350 mg/day

This applies only to magnesium in supplements or fortified foods. There is no upper limit for magnesium in food and water.
  • Men: 2.3 mg/day *
  • Women: 1.8 mg/day*
11 mg/day
45 micrograms/day
2,000 micrograms/day
Not determined
1.0 mg/day
700 mg/day
Up to age 70: 4,000 mg/day Over age 70: 3,000 mg/day

55 micrograms/day

400 micrograms/day
  • Age 19-50: 1,500 mg/day
  • Age 51-70: 1,300 mg/day
  • Age 71 and up: 1,200 mg/day
2,300 mg/day
Not determined
1.8 mg/day
Vitamin A
  • Men: 3,000 IU/day
  • Women: 2,310 IU/day
10,000 IU/day
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • Men: 16 mg/day
  • Women: 14 mg/day

35 mg/day

This applies only to niacin in supplements or fortified foods. There is no upper limit for niacin in natural sources.

Vitamin B6
  • Men age 19-50: 1.3 mg/day
  • Men age 51 up:1.7 mg/day
  • Women age 19-50: 1.3 mg/day
  • Women age 51 up: 1.5 mg/day
100 mg/day
Vitamin C
  • Men: 90 mg/day
  • Women: 75 mg/day
2,000 mg/day
Vitamin D (Calciferol)
  • Age 1-70: 15 micrograms/day
    (600 IU, or international units) *
  • Age 70 and older: 20 micrograms/day
    (800 IU) *

100 micrograms/day
(4,000 IU)

Vitamin E
22.4 IU/day

1,500 IU/day

This applies only to vitamin E in supplements or fortified foods. There is no upper limit for vitamin E from natural sources.

  • Men: 11 mg/day
  • Women: 8 mg/day
40 mg/day

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