Synthetic Vitamins vs. Natural Vitamins: Which Is Best?

Is it just me or do you feel like you see ads for vitamin supplements everywhere? It seems like every influencer and celebrity out there is promoting a vitamin and mineral supplement to help with hair growth, immunity, or energy production and you find yourself wondering if it could be beneficial for you too. But then you wonder…. are synthetic vitamins okay to take? Are they that much different than the vitamins found naturally in food? Do I get enough vitamins in the foods that I eat? If I take that vitamin Gwyneth Paltrow told me to take, will I look like her? Don’t lie, you know you wonder that too. 


It is possible to eat adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals without needing a supplement. But it takes eating a well-balanced diet to make this happen. The majority of the clients I coach struggle with eating adequate fruits and vegetables and getting enough calcium and other minerals in their diet unless they are intentional about it. My clients who eat a good variety of foods tend to do very well consuming all of the vitamins and minerals they need without needing supplementation.


So how do you decide if a vitamin supplement is a good choice for you? Here are a few things to think about regarding vitamin and mineral supplementation and some things for you to consider so you can make the best choice for your needs!


Natural is natural.

Okay I actually made myself laugh with this title, but you know what I mean, right? Finding foods in their natural state with all the good vitamins is a very safe and easy way to get your vitamins. In a perfect world, we would all have easy access to all the good foods all the time, but depending on where you live, certain food items may not be in season or harder to get a hold of. Or maybe you don’t do well planning and preparing so you buy your meals out and may be limited on options. 



Sometimes a supplement is necessary.

Maybe you just don’t do well eating your fruits and vegetables or maybe you can’t have a certain food group like dairy. If that’s the case, a vitamin supplement can be very beneficial! When I worked at a children’s hospital, I worked with kids with cystic fibrosis. The majority of people with CF cannot absorb the amount of fat soluble vitamins that their bodies need due to an enzyme deficiency so synthetic vitamins with large amounts of fat soluble vitamins is a must for them to have adequate vitamin levels.


Think about prenatal vitamins. During pregnancy, extra vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D are needed to support the healthy growth of your baby. Synthetic vitamins help you meet those needs and are necessary for most women. 


Synthetic vitamins can also pair certain vitamins together for the best absorption. For example, did you know that vitamin C helps to absorb iron and that vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium? Many calcium supplements out there will have vitamin D added to it to promote calcium absorption.


Do you need it?

Have you been told by a doctor or dietitian that you need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement? Have you been told that you are deficient in a specific nutrient? Did you have blood drawn to confirm this? Who recommended that you take the supplement?


If it was a doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist who knows your medical history and your lab values, you can rest assured that their recommendation is most certainly tailored just for you and your needs to help you have adequate vitamin levels. 


If it was a friend or blogger that just thinks you’d like it, you should check with your doctor before starting it. What their body needs may not be what their body needs or maybe you’re on a medication that interacts with the supplement so it wouldn’t be a good fit for you.


Vitamins can be helpful in filling gaps in your diet.

If for some reason you have to avoid a certain food group, you’re likely missing out on a few nutrients. For example, if you can’t eat dairy, you’re going to need to ensure you’re getting calcium from other sources. Sometimes these other sources aren’t as calcium dense or as bioavailable meaning your body may not absorb it as well as another calcium source. In this case, it would be much better to take a calcium supplement than letting your bones become brittle.


They are not regulated by the FDA

Keep this in mind when taking your supplements. This means the company producing the product could say there is 2,000 IU of vitamin D in their product but it hasn’t been confirmed that this is the case. I truly believe most companies produce safe, accurate products and what they say on the label is what is in the capsule, but you can’t know that with 100% certainty.


Some vitamin companies are USP verified meaning they collaborate with the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention which provides an extra layer of safety. They check the quality, purity, and potency of the vitamins and minerals so when you see the USP stamp on your vitamins, this confirms that they have been reviewed by an outside organization. 


This Dietitian’s Favorite Brand of Vitamins

I can’t speak for all dietitians, but personally, I really like the Nature Made brand. I believe that they base their products on scientific research and they do their own clinical trials to check efficacy. They are also USP verified and they have registered dietitians on staff which I love! My favorite women’s multivitamin is the Multi For Her with Omega 3 and I typically take this daily. 

So which kind of vitamins are best? If you can get your vitamins from whole foods like fruits and vegetables then that is wonderful! If you need additional supplementation, look for vitamins recommended by your health care providers or ones with the USP stamp to ensure a quality product.

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