Medical professionals across the spectrum agree: all women of childbearing age should take a multivitamin containing folic acid. Whether or not you are planning a pregnancy, on the off chance you may become pregnant, folic acid will help prevent birth defects. If you are specifically trying to become pregnant, or are currently pregnant, see our section on Prenatal Multivitamins. If you are over age 50, your nutrient needs change -- you no longer need iron, but you should up your B vitamin intake. In that case, see our discussion of Multivitamins for Adults over 50.
Premenopausal women lose iron during menstruation, so experts advise that women in this age group take a multivitamin with iron, such as Garden of Life Vitamin Code Women's Multivitamin (Est. $25 for 120 capsules). At 8 mg, it's slightly below the RDA for iron of 18 mg, but if you eat a balanced diet, 8 mg should be sufficient, say experts. It also contains only 21 mg of calcium, which is below the current recommendation of 1,000 mg, but, again, you may not need that much if you have a healthy diet. In addition, the role of calcium supplementation has come under scrutiny of late, so this is a good choice for women who are leery of supplementing for calcium. As always, check with your health care provider for specific recommendations for your unique needs.
Where Garden of Life Vitamin Code shines is in its other ingredients, including a probiotic and the 800 mcg of folate, which is higher than the minimum RDA of 400 mcg for females from age 14 to menopause, 600 mcg for pregnant women, and 500 mcg for breastfeeding women, but it's well within safe upper limits. Its ingredients have been certified by an independent, professional testing organization for accuracy in labeling; it also contains no contaminants. It's claimed to be formulated for ease of digestion and swallowing (although these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA) and users concur, saying the pills are easy to swallow. The contents can also be removed from the capsules and sprinkled over food or added to juice, something you can't do with most multivitamins.
The one complaint we saw regarding Garden of Life Vitamin Code Women's Multivitamin was the serving size -- four capsules, with the recommendation of taking two in the morning and two at night. Some users say they don't like taking that many capsules, others say they forget the second dose too easily. This also makes it one of the costlier vitamins for women, but most say it's worth it for the raw, whole food ingredients. Garden of Life Vitamin Code is gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian, but not vegan.
If you are a woman who has heavier periods or have been told by your health-care provider that you are at risk of losing too much iron, One-A-Day Women's Multivitamin (Est. $10 per 100 tablets) may be a better choice. This multivitamin also contains 400 mcg of folic acid, which is recommended for all women of childbearing age to help prevent potential neural tube defects like spina bifida. Its 1,000 IU of vitamin D is slightly above the newest recommendation of 600 IU from the Institute of Medicine, but far less than the safe upper limit of 4,000 IU per day. One-A-Day Women's has been tested by two different organizations and verified for accuracy in labeling. It is not suitable for vegans or vegetarians
If you're on a budget, experts say less expensive store-brand vitamins work just as well as name brands. One professional testing organization says Target up&up Women's Daily Multivitamin (Est. $12 for 300 tablets) is a more affordable alternative to One-A-Day Women's Multivitamin, but is virtually identical in its ingredient list. It also has passed recent testing for accuracy in labeling.
GNC's line of Women's Ultra Vitamins also passes testing for accuracy in labeling and ingredients, and no contaminants were found. GNC Women's Ultra Mega (Est. $20 for 180 caplets) contains 1,600 IU of vitamin D3 as well as a blend of foods that are thought to have antioxidant properties, although these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. In spite of this fruit and vegetable mix, Ultra Mega is not suitable for vegetarians or vegans, as it contains fish. It also contains soybean, so is not the best choice if you're trying to cut back on soy consumption. GNC Women's Ultra Mega Active (Est. $25 for 180 tablets) also exceeds the UL for niacin, but it is intended as a thermogenic fat burner in addition to being a multivitamin. (To read more about thermogenic fat burners, read our evaluation of thermogenic supplements in our report on Diet Pills.)