Medical professionals across the spectrum agree: all women of childbearing age should take a multivitamin containing either synthetic (folic acid) or naturally occurring folate. It's also important to know that the FDA has recently changed the way it measures folate as it naturally occurs in foods, and folic acid, the synthetic form of folate. We discuss this in detail in the introduction to this report. Whether or not you are planning a pregnancy, on the off chance you may become pregnant, folate will help prevent neural tube 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.
In addition to a need for folate, premenopausal women lose iron during menstruation, so experts advise that women in this age group take a multivitamin that also contains iron, such as One-A-Day Women's Multivitamin (Est. $8 for 100 capsules). It contains 100 percent of the RDA for folate in the form of folic acid (400 mcg) and iron (18 mg). 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 and verified for accuracy in labeling. However, it is not suitable for vegans or vegetarians.
One-A-Day for women is reported as well-tolerated by users, especially when taken with food as the manufacturer recommends. Many say they like that they are getting 100 percent supplementation of some important nutrients, yet only have to take one pill per day. A few say that pill is too big, but others make it easier by cutting the tablet in half.
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. It may not be as widely available, however, since it is exclusive to Target.
If you want a vitamin that is vegetarian, gluten free and kosher, Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw One for Women (Est. $25 for 75) is one of the products that passes tests for accuracy in labeling in a recent evaluation. It is also a once-daily pill that contains 800 mcg of folate from naturally occurring sources, and 6 mg of iron. While that's on the high side for folate, and the low side for iron, both are well within safe limits, and this multi may be a better choice than One-A-Day or up&up for women who do not need supplemental iron, and don't eat a lot of folate-containing (many fruits and veggies) or folic acid-enriched foods (usually breads and cereals).
Garden of Life has a good vitamin choice if you're a vegan as well, MyKind Organics Women's Multi (Est. $55 for 120). They're pricey, but also come from a well-respected company with products that generally do well in testing (although this specific formulation has not been tested recently). Because vegan diets do not offer sufficient levels of B-12, the 30 mcg here, supplying 500 percent of the RDA for B-12, is a good choice. It also supplies 500 mcg of folate from whole foods, and 10 mg of iron. It is recommended for women under age 40. The very similar Garden of Life MyKind Women's 40+ (Est. $55 for 120) has been recently tested for accurate labeling and won an "approved" nod. It has the same amount of folate, but no iron, since women over 40 don't generally need to supplement with iron. It also ups the amount of B-12 to 60 mcg, since older adults tend to begin to have difficulty in metabolizing B-12.
GNC's line of Women's Ultra Vitamins also pass testing for accuracy in labeling and ingredients, and no contaminants were found. GNC Women's Ultra Mega One Daily (Est. $10 for 60 caplets) contains 800 mcg of folic acid, 18 mg of iron and 1,200 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 contains fish, however, so it is not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. It also contains soybeans, 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) has less folic acid, just 600 mcg, but still has 18 mg of iron. Both of these exceed the UL for niacin, but that is because they are touted as "supporting energy production." That's a euphemism for a slightly sped up metabolism, because niacin is a thermogenic. (To read more about thermogenic supplements, read our evaluation in our report on Diet Pills.) Again, keep in mind that most of the claims made by multivitamin companies have not been evaluated by the FDA.