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How to Pick a Multivitamin

Pills are no substitute for a healthy lifestyle, but they can supplement your diet and protect against nutritional shortcomings. Yet more isn't always better. If you're expecting, you're likely already taking a prenatal vitamin. If you're not, here's what to look for in a multi, according to Meir Stampfer, M.D., professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health:

• Vitamin A

Be sure most is from beta-carotene, which your body converts to A as needed. Too much preformed A (retinol) can weaken bones and ups the risk of birth defects. The Daily Value (DV) is 5,000 international units; up to 10,000 a day seems safe. If you eat lots of A-fortified foods, skip a multi with retinol.

• Folic acid

Look for at least 400 micrograms. If you get pregnant, the risk of your baby having a spinal-cord defect will be reduced.

• Vitamins D, K, and B6

Many women get less than the recommended amounts. D and K are key for strong bones; B6 helps protect the heart.

• Calcium

You won't get 100 percent of the DV (1,000 milli-grams) in a multi  -- it's too bulky. So if you don't eat calcium-rich foods like milk and yogurt, take a separate supplement.

• Iron

If you're like most women, your diet's low in this mineral, so a multi can help you get more. But don't take a separate iron supplement unless you're diagnosed with a deficiency  -- the body can't get rid of excess iron.

• Just enough

A daily supplement shouldn't exceed 100 percent of the DV for anything. To be sure, check the percentages on the label.