…BUT I ALWAYS READ THE LABEL!

I am a compulsive label reader.  I can tell you about all kinds of horrible things that are in the foods you thought were healthy.  I can tell you which brands of yoghurt are highest in protein and lowest in sugars, or which jarred tomato sauces use low-grade, refined cooking oils instead of extra virgin olive oil.

Eating Paleo means that for the most part we buy only whole, unprocessed and unpackaged foods, but there are still a handful of items that make more sense to buy pre-made than to make from scratch, due to the time and/or expense involved in producing them. Examples of this include oils, coconut milk, almond milk, butter, ghee, and yoghurt.  When we buy pre-packaged foods, I try my best to find those that are as “natural” as possible, and do not contain unnecessary fillers, emulsifiers, thickeners, sweeteners and other additives, hence why I am so dilligent about reading labels.

So given all of this obsessive label reading, imagine my surprise when I discovered just the other day that I have been taking my prenatal vitamin at one third of the recommended dose for more than four months!  How on earth did this happen?!

Back in March, I wrote about my supplement regimen, extolling the virtues of “The Ultimate One – Expecting” prenatal vitamin. For years before becoming pregnant, I had been taking their “Active Women” multivitamin, and I still have yet to find a more comprehensive multivitamin for the money.  When I was looking at prenatal vitamins, again, “The Ultimate One” seemed to come out on top in every way, and was by content, the best value.  Or so I thought…

I made the assumption, based on my previous experience with their products and the name of the vitamin, that I only needed to take one caplet per day to achieve the stated intake.  I don’t think it helped that the prenatal vitamin is sold in bottles of 60 caplets, just like their regular vitamins, and is priced slightly higher per unit (which makes sense for a specialty product).  Most supplements are packaged in multiples of 30 that correspond to a one, two or three-month supply.  Thus, it seemed perfectly logical to me that one bottle would equal a two month supply.

While I did read the package to compare the ingredients to other prenatal vitamins, I have to say that the teensy tiny writing in the product information block on the back of the package didn’t make it super obvious to yours truly that the stated dosage was in fact three caplets per day, not one.  Even once I got the first inkling the other day that I might have been under-consuming my vitamin, it still took some very careful looking to find this information.  So now I find that what I thought was a convenient and well-priced prenatal vitamin is in fact three times as expensive as I thought it was, comes packaged as a meagre 20-day supply, and requires me to remember to take it three times per day (this simply won’t happen — I have a hard enough time remembering to take my vitamins on a once daily basis!).

I have given it some thought, compared the contents to those of my regular vitamin, and decided that when I finish the present bottle, I am going to give up on prenatal supplements and revert to my regular one-per-day Active Women formula.  The differences between the two are minor in the grand scheme of things, and I figure that the baby and I have been thriving thus far on one third of the dose of the prenatal vitamin, so we’ll actually be getting more micronutrients when we make the switch.  My regular vitamin has less Vitamin C and D, less calcium, less magnesium, less iron, and no copper and phosphorous, but I already supplement Vitamin D, iron and magnesium, and I highly doubt that my present diet leaves me deficient in any of the other mentioned micronutrients.  The folate content of both vitamins is the same.

All that said, I’m wondering if this mistake has perhaps caused me to become deficient in iron (hence the recent spate of bruising). My iron supplement contains 25 milligrams, and I thought I’d been getting an additional 27 milligrams from the prenatal vitamin, but was in fact only taking in one third that amount.  Switching back to my regular vitamin will boost my iron supplementation to a total of 43 milligrams.

And now I am left wondering whether a multivitamin is really necessary anyway, in the context of a nutrient-rich Paleo style diet. Probably not.

10 responses to “…BUT I ALWAYS READ THE LABEL!

  1. One a day is better than none a day, especially with those random vitamins we might not get enough of one day or another. Even with the best diet ever, unless you are sure you are absorbing every nutrient from every bite you eat really well, it’s likely good to supplement with a prenatal a little bit. I take Thorne Research Basic Prenatal, recommended by my ND, and it’s a 3/day vitamin as well. You really do not want to take one pill that contains the full recommended allowances of all those vitamins at once. With capsules, my doctor recommends opening it up and blending it in a smoothie for better absorption. Who knows where that capsule might open in your digestive tract? If you’re doing fine on one/day, stick with that. You could try 2/day and see if it helps with the bruising. Some days we likely need more, some days less. Play it by ear.

  2. There is also considerable debate as to the efficacy of supplements — what proportion of the nutrients our bodies actually absorb, and whether nutrients outside the context of food are truly usable by the body. I take supplements for “insurance,” but definitely try to focus on getting as much of my nutrition as possible from the food I eat, as micronutrients from food are generally more bioavailable.

    • Hi AJ’s mom! 🙂

      Thank you for the kind words and for the great link. It seems that until recently Vitamin D has been very under-appreciated in its role in so many vital functions in the human body. I have been supplementing 4,000 – 6,000 IU throughout the winter (although I can’t wait until the sun stays out for long enough to get it naturally!) and this is the first time I’ve gotten through the season without so much as a sniffle, even though being pregnant supposedly suppresses the immune system.

      Glad to hear you guys are loving the Paleo diet. Isn’t it amazing how good you can feel when you just eat real food and cut out all the processed crap?

  3. Hi – I was looking for a good review of this vitamin. I just bought it the other day. I knew you had to take 3 but the things that concern me most about it is the high quantity of vitamin A you get of you take all 3. It’s the max recommended per day so what if you get some in food?! You were probably better off taking only one. Also, the pills contain BOTH calcium and iron. Isn’t it common knowledge that they should be taken separately?! I think I’ll throw them out and go back to the Platinum one a days I was taking. Even though they taste fishier than fish oil :/. Great blog, btw 🙂

    • The form of vitamin A that is potentially toxic to a fetus in high amounts is retinoid form, such as that found in liver, but most multivitamins (especially prenatal ones) will only contain carotenoid form (e.g. beta carotene), which you don’t have to worry about. A good way to distinguish between the two is that animal-based vitamin A can be problematic, whereas the worst thing that will happen with too much vegetable-based vitamin A is that your skin might adopt an orange tint 🙂

      I’ve often wondered how much nutrition a person actually gets from multivitamins when, as you pointed out, they combine nutrients such that work against one another. Though I’ve seen some prenatal vitamins that actually come with two different types of pills: one that will contain things like vitamin C, iron and zinc; and one that will contain the calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. I can’t remember the brand, offhand.

  4. Do you have an article specifically about prenatal vitamins? I am trying to do my research right now and am trying to choose what vitamin to start taking since I’m planning on getting pregnant soon. I came across this prenatal vitamin that changes per trimester. So more folic acid in the first trimester, more calcium and iron in the third. It’s an interesting concept and I have never come across it before. Do you think its helpful to do it that way? I was wondering if you could look over it and tell me what you think. https://www.trioprenatal.com/

    • Hi Meg,

      I meant to write a post about prenatal vitamins during this most recent pregnancy, and then I never got around to it. I ended up not taking a prenatal vitamin, or even a multi-vitamin, and just supplementing the individual nutrients that I felt were necessary. Part of the rationale for this approach was so that I could combine the vitamins and minerals that best complement one another, and separate the ones that interfere. So, for example, I would take iron + vitamin c + folic acid with breakfast, and calcium + magnesium + vitamin d with dinner. I also took fish oil and probiotics. I think I ended up spending a lot less money than I would have on a prenatal vitamin, and this way I could really dial in what I needed. For me, iron has always been an issue, so I took much more iron and folate than would have been in a prenatal vitamin or multivitamin.

      If you are planning to get pregnant soon, you should definitely start taking folic acid. You can buy it on its own, and it’s really inexpensive – I pay around $7 for a three-month supply.

      • Thank you so much for your reply. You should write a blog entry about it! I would love to know more details on what compliments whats.

  5. Please be careful about swtiching back to the Ultimate One Active while pregnant. I had taken that one for years too (I live outside Canada now and had to get it shipped by family or stock up when home). The thing is that the Active formula contains quite a bit of Agnus Castus or “vitex” or “chaste tree” and other “female” herbs that may not be pregnancy friendly. If you plan to use the Active, it may be worth speaking to NuLife to enquire about whether the “non-medicinal” ingredients should be of any concern. Their website is full of great information, by the way, and is pretty clear on the three a day point.

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