We’ve been trained to think of price as an indicator of quality. But what are we to make of the vitamins aisle of the local drug store, where prices range widely for a month’s supply of similar ingredients?
As it turns out, there is “almost no connection between price and quality” among popular multivitamins, according to a 2011 study by ConsumerLab.com.
Many medical professionals point out that you shouldn’t need vitamin supplements if you’ve got a proper diet. Your body can only use so much of a nutrient, and routinely getting too many vitamins and minerals is potentially bad for you, according to WebMD. But if a multivitamin is part of your daily routine, you still shouldn’t be spending more than $4 per month. Here are the top multivitamin recommendations from ConsumerLab. (Prices assume one vitamin/day and may vary store to store):
- For children – Flintstones Plus Bones Building Support, $3.75/month.
- For all adults – Nature’s Way Alive, $3.70/month.
- For women – Walgreens One Daily for Women, $2.70/month.
- For men – BJ’s Berkley & Jensen Men’s Daily, $1/month.
- For seniors – Equate Mature Multivitamin 50+, $1/month.
When it comes to supplements, price isn’t the only thing that should concern you: ConsumerLab found that labels are sometimes flat-out wrong, too. Here are some of the findings from the report, updated February 2015. (You can gain access to the full report from there, for a fee.):
- One popular general multivitamin contained nearly 2.5 times its claimed amount of vitamin A in the retinol form. Too much of this type of vitamin A can be harmful.
- 12 multivitamins provided less vitamin A, vitamin C, or folate than claimed, in some cases less than 30 percent of the listed amounts. These include a prenatal vitamin and products for men, adults (general), seniors, and even pets.
- Tablets of a women’s multivitamin and a general adult multivitamin failed to break apart within the required time – indicating they may not fully release all of their ingredients for absorption.
- One pet multivitamin was contaminated with lead.
- A range of multivitamins contained more than the upper tolerable limits of niacin, vitamin A, magnesium, and/or zinc.
Why are some of these things so expensive? One reason might be marketing budgets. Another could be a side effect of being a growth industry. As Forbes reported, the industry grossed more than $32 billion in 2012, a number expected to grow to more than $60 billion by 2021.
Getting better nutrition for less
The natural way can be the cheapest way to balance your diet — depending on your tastes — and it’s certainly more enjoyable than downing handfuls of supplements.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a handy calculator to help people determine how much they need of different nutrients, including a maximum tolerable amount. And if you’re just as concerned about your financial health, try these tips:
- Buy in-season: Modern technology allows us to grow crops in climates and at times they naturally would not. However, the availability, price and flavor are usually best when fruits and veggies are naturally grown. Here are lists of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Go to farmers markets: When you buy directly from producers, prices can sometimes be cheaper and you can be sure of freshness. Plus, you’re supporting people in your community. To find a farmers market nearby, visit LocalHarvest.org.
- Plant your own garden: Grow your own tomatoes, beans and potatoes at home. Radishes and rhubarb are among the easiest to grow. For more information on home gardening, check out Saving Green by Growing Your Own Vegetables.
- Plan well: Shop only for what you need (and not when you’re hungry, which tends to make you buy more) to prepare the meals you have in mind, since fresh fruits and veggies don’t preserve well. Exception: Buy in bulk during sales, and prepare dishes you can freeze. You can also buy already frozen or canned stuff, which lasts longer and may be cheaper. Check out: “Stop Wasting Food and Money.”
- Cook smart: When fruits are getting too ripe, you can still use them for baking or making smoothies. Think of meal ideas that stretch pricy items: stews, casseroles, stir-fry. If you need help coming up with easy or healthy options, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has some healthy eating tips.
What’s your attitude about supplements in your diet? Are they worth it? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
Ari Cetron contributed to this report.