THE HUSTLE AND bustle of today’s busy world makes it difficult for many people to eat a healthful diet. It takes planning and effort to get to the grocery store, buy wholesome food and find time to prepare   it.

All of the registered dieticians I’ve spoken to over the years about vitamins—R.D.s are the gold standard for individuals giving nutritional advice— have told me it is ideal to get the nutrients your body needs directly from the food and beverages you consume.

But not everyone does that. Too often, it’s easier to opt for processed and fast-food options, a choice that can leave us far short of getting all of the nutrients we need to be healthy. Most of us realize that, which is no doubt why roughly 40% of Americans spend billions of dollars on vitamin supplements every year.

We shouldn’t be surprised that vitamin manufacturers have convinced us that taking vitamins can be fun—especially children’s vitamins that are more like candy than a supplement. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to help my kids decipher if the vitamin they were about to devour was a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Velaciraptor. The gummy vitamins were even harder to figure out: Was that a penguin, a polar bear or an arctic fox? It didn’t matter … down they went!

Some people ask whether expensive vitamins absorb better in your body. Others are suspicious about contaminants in vitamins. (Because vitamins are considered a dietary supplement and not a food, there are no strict Food and Drug Administration guidelines for manufacturing vitamins.) Yet others wonder if the vitamins really contain the nutrients listed on the label.

In 2010, Consumer Reports surveyed over 2,000 adults and found that over half worried that vitamins contained harmful ingredients, and nearly half feared that their vitamins didn’t contain the nutrients claimed on the label.

The following from Consumer Reports Magazine (2010) details tests and results. “Our tests of 21 multivitamins at two outside labs—including leading brands, five for seniors, and six for children—will allay some of those fears. All but one of the products we tested met their label claims for key essential vitamins and minerals, and none contained worrisome levels of contaminants such as arsenic or heavy metals. Most of the pills we tested  also passed the U.S. Pharmacopeia’s dissolution test, which involves immersing them in a simulated stomach-acid solution to determine whether they’ll dissolve properly in your body. What’s more, we found that store brands did just as well in our tests as national brands, at a lower price.”

My wife and I no longer take a daily multivitamin, nor do we buy them for our kids. Instead, we try to eat lots of whole grains and a wide variety of fruits and veggies. However, when we were taking vitamins, I was aware that some of the brand-name variety could cost two or even three times more than store brands. I found that especially interesting, as many store-brand and national-brand vitamins are produced by the same manufacturer.

Here’s the bottom line: If you do take vitamins, you can feel relatively certain that, regardless of how much you pay for them, they are safe, they contain the nutrients their label claims, and they are dissolving in your body. What might remain uncertain is which of the Flintstone’s characters your child is about to eat.

Consumer Reports. Multivitamins: Most we tested were fine, so select by choice. Consumer Reports Magazine: September 2010. www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine- archive/2010/september/health/multivitamins/overview/index.htm. Accessed 1-3-13.