- It’s almost impossible to get all of the nutrients you need from food alone—no matter how healthy you eat.
- Vitamins are essential to filling the gaps in your diet, but not all nutrient forms are created equal when it comes to quality.
- Although your diet likely gives you enough of certain nutrients—in some cases your body relies on harder-to-get “helper” nutrients to effectively absorb it.
If you’re wondering whether or not you actually need to take a daily vitamin, the main thing to know is this:
No matter how healthy you eat or what kind of diet you follow, it can be difficult for your body to get all the nutrients it needs from food, all the time. Every diet can have gaps—whether you’re vegan, paleo, keto, or eat everything.
Four factors have helped our scientific team better understand nutrient gaps in women: Dietary Intake, Specific Lifestyle & Diet, Nutrigenomics, and Intake vs. Effectiveness. Yes, we just dropped some terms on you—let’s dig in.
1. Dietary Intake: Your body is hungry for certain essential nutrients.
To understand the gaps in our diet, we use NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey)—the world’s most comprehensive nutritional database—to look at a representative sampling of what Americans eat versus what they actually need. The latest data available is from 2015-2016.
There are a couple of ways to judge nutrient gaps. One is the recommended Daily Values by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) that you always see on food and supplement labels. But to get the full picture, they also look at The Institute of Medicine’s Daily Recommended Intakes (DRIs) and Estimated Average Requirements (EARs)—scientists love their acronyms, right?
Anyway, through analyzing all of this data, we saw that most women ages 19-50 on average aren’t getting enough of certain essential nutrients. Averages don’t tell the whole story—so our team also looked deeper to see if a large proportion of women aren’t getting what they need from their diets. One thing they learned through doing this is that 65% of women are also lacking in Vitamin K—a pretty big group that would be missed if we only considered average intakes.
Ritual's research revealed an unsettling truth about most multivitamins: they’re full of stuff you don’t actually need, and dosages that are too high.
2. Specific Lifestyle & Diet—Vegan: Paleo? Pregnant? You have different nutrient gaps.
Because we know that averages can’t tell the whole story, we also look at data for women who follow diets like veganism, vegetarianism, and other groups that have different dietary needs and intakes than the general population.
NHANES and other studies show that essential nutrients like Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Iron are low in vegans. And during and after pregnancy, certain nutrients like Folate and Choline, become super important—but hard for women to get enough of without taking a vitamin.
So, while there is overlap in the essential nutrients most women lack, lifestyle and life stage also play a role in determining where your body may need a little extra help from a vitamin. Nutrition: it’s a lifestyle.
3. Nutrigenomics: You’re a beautiful, unique creature—and that affects your nutrient needs.
What’s nutrigenomics? Basically, it’s a fancy word meaning, “genetics affect how your body processes certain nutrients.” Nutrigenomics are super important because genetic variations can make certain nutrient forms hard for some of us to utilize.
One example is a variation of the gene MTHFR, which almost 40% of women have. This genetic variation makes it hard to utilize certain forms of Folate. Folate is essential for all women, so making sure to take a vitamin with methylated Folate (and not Folic Acid, which is the form most commonly used in vitamins, and harder to process for women with the MTHFR gene variation), is crucial to filling in the gaps when it comes to getting enough of this important nutrient.
4. Intake vs. Effectiveness: We all need a little help sometimes—and vitamins are no exception.
While your diet might technically meet your daily intake for some nutrients, it’s important to make sure that those nutrients actually work in your body. Vitamins don’t work in a vacuum—nutrients are actually better together.
One example: Calcium. Most of us get enough of it through food, but to fully deliver it to our bones and tissues, we also need to get sufficient amounts of Vitamin D and Vitamin K—two essential nutrients that most women don’t get enough of from food. Without taking a vitamin to make sure you get enough of these “helper” nutrients, Calcium may not be effectively absorbed by your body.
Multivitamins: Food your body doesn’t get from food.
In theory, your diet should always give you the nutrients you need—but in reality, that’s nearly impossible.
Getting enough essential nutrients—and doing it continuously, every single day—is crucial for keeping nutrient levels where they should be, so they can do what they’re meant to do and provide benefits to your body. It’s hard to make this happen without everyday help from vitamins.
Think of it this way: Taking a multivitamin is like a nutrient insurance plan. In the areas where your food falls short, getting support from a vitamin like Essential for Women helps give your body the nutrients it’s hungry for.