Ultimate Guide: How to Pick a Prenatal Vitamin
If you’re trying to pick a prenatal vitamin (or any multivitamin for that matter!), this comprehensive guide is a must read. We reveal the top 5 differentiators to look for that make a huge impact in the quality of prenatals, plus give a detailed breakdown on the dangers of synthetic vitamins and how to distinguish natural plant-based sources from lab-created ones.
Note: This post is NOT sponsored by NutriGold. I’ve simply found that they have the best prenatal vitamin on the market and am sharing why with you in this post.
If you’re pregnant (congrats!), you probably know that taking a prenatal vitamin is super important to ensure you’re getting all your nutritional needs met, helping to support a healthy pregnancy and your baby’s development.
What you probably don’t know is this: NOT EVERY PRENATAL VITAMIN IS CREATED EQUAL.
I was shocked when, every time I asked a different doctor for a prenatal recommendation, they all responded, “It doesn’t matter; they’re all the same.”
Newsflash: they are NOT all the same!
Different prenatal vitamins contain different dosages of nutrients, from varying sources (synthetic vs. real food), some contain additives (most of which are harmful), some have third party testing and certifications, others don’t, some are organic, others aren’t… you get the idea.
So, in true R+R fashion, I have since researched in depth about what differentiates vitamin brands from each other. My hope is that this guide will empower you with the knowledge in how to pick the best prenatal vitamin for you–so let’s get to it!
What to Look for in Prenatal Vitamins
There are some key differences to look for that make a huge impact in the quality of prenatals (and, actually, all vitamins!).
1) Synthetic Vitamins vs. Whole Food Vitamins: Most vitamins on the market are made from either a) synthetic isolates, which include vitamins created in a lab from industrial chemicals and solvents; or b) fermented nutrients, which takes those synthetic isolates and ferments them with probiotics or nutritional yeast.
Neither of these options are made from real food nutrients!
In fact, you might be surprised to know that more than 95% of all the vitamin supplements sold today fall in to the synthetic category. (source)
Instead, look for vitamins that are made from high-quality, whole food or food-sourced nutrients.
These are vitamins that are concentrated from natural, real food sources (e.g. herbs, fruits, spices and vegetables). The only brand out there I’ve found that is guaranteed to be made from organic plant-based, whole foods is NutriGold’s Prenatal Multi Gold.
This is such an important topic to break down that we’ll devote an entire section to the dangers of synthetic vitamins below; but for now, let’s keep looking at what else to look for when you’re picking a prenatal.
2) Vitamin Sourcing: Similarly, you want to find a prenatal vitamin where the brand discloses the exact food source of their vitamins so you can ensure it’s not synthetic.
Many prenatal vitamins, including those labeled as real food vitamins, only say that the ingredients are a “food blend”, so we really can’t be sure where those foods are coming from.
Check out NutriGold’s Prenatal Multi Gold label:
You’ll notice how clearly and transparently the label breaks down each source. If a brand doesn’t want to tell you where their ingredients are sourced from, it makes me wonder… what are they hiding?
3) Vitamin Dosage: It’s important to look at the actual quantity of each vitamin and mineral you’re getting in your prenatal multivitamin. Some brands just say they have an “herbal blend” of x, y and z, but they don’t have to disclose the actual amounts in each dose on the label. (Red flag!)
Thus, you don’t know exactly how much of each ingredient you’re getting, and usually this means that the doses are too low to be beneficial. Again, look at NutriGold’s label above where they break down the exact dose per serving of every single nutrient (for example, 600 mg folate). As a consumer, I really appreciate this commitment to transparency.
4) Vitamin Testing + Transparency: Having objective, 3rd-party testing certifications is key when it comes to prenatal vitamins. This means that the source, purity and potency label claims have all been verified by an independent lab.
Personally, I find this type of transparency and accountability super important, so I can be sure that I’m not getting duped by greenwashing or buzzword marketing that’s not regulated and know with certainty that what I’m putting in my body is top quality.
Some of the certifications I look for: Made in the USA and is certified Organic, non-GMO Project Verified, C.L.E.A.N., Vegan and Kosher. NutriGold’s Prenatal Multi Gold checks everyone of these boxes.
They are also third-party tested for 140+ purity and potency markers. In fact, for any given product, they may have test results from as many as 4 or 5 different labs. It’s so refreshing to see a company that’s putting quality and transparency over profits!
It’s pretty cool because all NutriGold products now come with a QR code you can scan to retrieve instant quality testing results. If you’re interested, go to this link to see these results with a full Certificates of Analysis on every single NutriGold product.
5) Additives: Just like with our food, vitamins also have unnecessary additives that can be harmful to our health (and, in this case, our infant’s health!). (source) Many prenatal vitamins, especially those that are tablet-based, have potentially toxic additives.
Surprisingly, even popular organic prenatal vitamins contain a bunch of additives like dextrose, gum arabic, guar gum, palm oil, maltodextrin, sunflower lecithin and potato starch.
Here’s what you ideally want to look for:
- NO magnesium stearate or other chemical additives: Magnesium stearate, sometimes called “vegetable stearate” or derivatives like “steric acid” is in virtually every supplement sold on the market today. Essentially, it’s a lubricant that helps speed up the manufacturing process because it prevents ingredients from sticking to the mechanical equipment, and also makes pills easier to swallow and move down your digestive tract. However, magnesium stearate may be toxic in high doses by suppressing your T-cells (which attack pathogens), and may also lead to poor intestinal absorption (making the supplement virtually useless). (source)
- NO residual solvents or pesticides: Of course, you don’t want to be ingesting pesticides or chemicals. Look for organic ingredients or at least non-GMO.
- NO binders or fillers: These get added to help bulk up the supplement, but there is no long-term research on how these ingredients impact our health long-term. The biggest current concern is that they can interact with the medicinal ingredients and could render the active ingredients inactive–thus unavailable for the body to use. (source)
- NO allergens: Some supplements contain allergens or derivatives of allergens like milk, soy, eggs, fish, nuts and wheat. This is just unnecessary and important to look for if you’re allergic or sensitive to any of these ingredients, or if you’re following a specific diet like vegan or gluten-free.
I love NutriGold because they’ve got NONE of that stuff! No additives, fillers or anything unnecessary. Instead, they simply use an organic veggie capsule (pullulan) and organic rice concentrate to bind the pill together.
The Dangers of Synthetic Vitamins
Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s talk in detail about why whole food sources are better, and why synthetic vitamins can be dangerous.
In general, whole food-sourced vitamins are more bioavailable, meaning that your body recognizes these ingredients, easily absorbs them and can put them to use! Synthetic forms are more likely to confuse the body and could render the supplement inactive. (source)
One of the MOST important differences in prenatals is Folate vs. Folic Acid.
Folate is one of the most key nutrients a pregnant body needs to prevent neural defects, like spina bifida. I can’t stress enough how important it is to supplement with whole food-sourced Folate, NOT Folic Acid (which is the oxidized synthetic compound).
Increased amounts of Folic Acid has been linked with increased risk for cancer, and can also mask detection of vitamin B12 deficiency (which we need for our central nervous system to properly function). (source)
Folate from natural food sources, on the other hand, supports development of red blood cells, nervous system function and reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood (homocysteine is increasingly being recognized as a risk factor for health problems like cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s).
Here’s a breakdown of the other nutrients to look for in prenatal vitamins (natural whole food-sourced vs. synthetic):
- Vitamin A from organic microalgae (the active form) vs. beta-carotene. Beta-carotene found in its natural form (like carrots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes) is converted into Vitamin A in the body. However, when beta-carotene is directly supplemented, some studies suggest that this may increase your risk of serious health conditions like cancer and heart disease. (source)
- Vitamin C and E from organic berries and fruits vs. Ascorbic Acid and dl-alpha tocopherol (the chemical names for Vitamin C and E). Supplementing with Ascorbic Acid may lead to diarrhea, cramps and increased kidney stone risks. Supplementing with dl-alpha tocopherol typically fails to absorb in the body. (source)
- Vitamin D from Lichen (as D3) vs. Cholecalciferol or Irradiated Ergosterol, Calciferol. We know that getting Vitamin D (usually from the sun and foods like fish) is super important for our bones, immune system and mental health. When supplementing, be sure to supplement with D3 and not D2 or generic Vitamin D, as vitamin D2 is neither as absorbable nor convertible by the body into what it needs. (source)
- Vitamin K from natto (100% as K2 (MK-7) — not mixed with K1). Vitamin K2 is needed to help with nutrient assimilation, growth and development in infants and children, brain function, and dental health. Other than getting it naturally in foods like fermented cheese and yogurts, dark meat poultry, free-range eggs and grass-fed butter and meats, Vitamin K2, when supplemented from plant-based natto (fermented soybeans), is highly bioavailable. Vitamin K2 MK‑7 is the best choice of Vitamin K as it gives the body a much stronger vitamin K boost compared to a similar amount of K1, targeting the bone‑producing proteins that integrate calcium into bones and teeth. (source)
- B vitamins from organic plants. The eight B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12)–called the Vitamin B Complex–play an important role in keeping our bodies running properly, converting our food into fuel and allowing us to stay energized throughout the day. Specifically, Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is vital to your baby’s developing brain and nervous system. As with everything else, we want a real food source of Vitamin B vs. synthetic, to be sure we’re getting maximum nutrients and avoiding potentially harmful ingredients.
- B-12 as Methylcobalamin (70%) and Adenosylcobalamin (30%). Note that B-12 is the one exception for not being food-sourced, as there is currently no vegan source of an “active” form of B12. Given this, NutriGold’s B-12 is a lab-made complex providing both bioactive forms–70% methylcobalamin and 30% adenosylcobalamin. You want to get both of those forms, as they’re the only forms that are coenzymated and active in the body (meaning they require no extra conversion to be active), and because they perform different functions within the body. (source)
- Overall methylcobalamin supports cardiovascular function, neurological health, and emotional wellness. Adenosylcobalamin is used in the metabolic cycle to produce energy, supports optimal liver health and plays a vital role in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. (source)
- Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining the health of your nervous system and supporting methylation, a process in the body that essentially allows the gears to turn and flicks biological switches on and off for a host of systems (neurotransmitter production, detoxification, fat metabolism and so much more). Thus you want to look for B12 in its active, methylated form (vs. unmethylated B12, which is its inactive form.) (source) This is particularly important if you have the MTHFR mutation or have taken B vitamins in the past without success in raising your levels.
- It’s also believed that when combined with folate during pregnancy, B12 supplements can help to prevent spina bifida and other spinal and central nervous system birth defects in your baby, too. (source)
- Calcium from organic algae vs. calcium carbonate. As with other synthetic vitamins, supplementing with calcium carbonate instead of real food calcium is not only weakly absorbed, it’s associated with increased cardiovascular risk, prostate cancer and higher risk for kidney stones. (source)
- Iodine from organic kelp. Iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production, and it’s way more effective to get iodine from an abundant natural seaweed like kelp than to take a synthetic supplement, often in the form of potassium iodide or sodium iodide. (source) Not only are natural food sources generally more effective, but with iodine specifically, it’s easy to get too much and the synthetic supplement can interfere with some medications. (source)
- Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, Manganese, and Chromium from organic plants. These are all important nutrients during pregnancy to support tasks like bone cartilage growth, DNA production, breaking down and storing fats, carbs, and protein, and more.
Whew! I know that was a lot to take in, but it’s so essential to be informed–especially when you’re growing another body inside of yours! There is sadly so much misinformation out there, so we really need to be savvy consumers and do our own research when it comes to making decisions that best support our health and wellness.
Final Recommendations on Picking a Prenatal Vitamin
By now, you’ve learned the top reasons why I recommend picking NutriGold’s Prenatal Multivitamin above any other brand. With highly bioavailable, plant-based ingredients filled with 13 vitamins and 7 minerals per serving (with 100%+ daily value of 13 nutrients) and no harmful ingredients, NutriGold is a clear winner in my book.
The formula is also easy-to-digest and gentle enough to be taken on an empty stomach, which is a very unique attribute among prenatal multis and is exactly what mommas-to-be need (hello, morning sickness!).
When I switched to this supplement, I was relieved at how easy the pills are to swallow compared to other oversized tablets and how there’s no metallic aftertaste. (The capsules can even be opened easily, if desired.)
Plus, NutriGold uses sustainable packaging–eco-friendly glass bottles and tree-free sugarcane cartons– and their products are ethically formulated by using only humane processes during manufacturing.
The really great news is that NutriGold is actually affordable! You can get it on Amazon for $40.20 per bottle.
If for whatever reason you don’t want to go with NutriGold, my second pick would be Garden of Life’s mykind Organics Prenatal. I started out with this, but–as mentioned above–they have unnecessary additives and don’t fully disclose their dosages. They also use Vitamin K Complex (instead of 100% MK-7) and their Vitamin B-12 doesn’t have adenosylcobalamin like NutriGold’s does.
Practically, I also found them hard to swallow as the tablets are so large. Still, it could be a good option depending on your needs, and it is slightly cheaper ($31.25 per bottle on Amazon).
I truly hope you found this ultimate guide to picking a prenatal vitamin helpful and empowering.
Leave a comment below letting us know your best tips for picking a prenatal and if you know of any other brands that hit the mark!
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I've linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.